25 May 2005
Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC)
H.E. Mrs Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic,
Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration
of the Republic of Croatia
for the Panel
“Acting in concert in the Balkans and elsewhere – How can institutional cooperation make the world more secure”?
- The overall security situation in the South East Europe looks more favourable today if compared with the past decade. To the large extent that has been a result of activities and reforms undertaken in the framework of euro-atlantic institutional cooperation. In this context, we must commend the positive influence of Partnership of Peace (which Croatia joined on this date five years ago), especially through the NATO Membership Action Plan, as well as the EU Process of Stabilisation and Association.
- These mechanisms, together with the perspective of a future EU and NATO membership, have proven to be the best catalyst for the countries in South East Europe to implement comprehensive political, economic and institutional reforms.
- All South East European countries are involved in the process of stabilization and are oriented to realization of a society with developed democratic and market-oriented standards, to the rule of law, euro-atlantic integration as well as to achieving good neighbourly relations.
- However, the achieved degree of stability differs from one country to another and should be evaluated taking into account the specific situation in every country individually. Lasting constitutional and political arrangements which should provide for political and economic stability and security in this region have not, in some of the states, assumed final form (Serbia-Montenegro-Kosovo) – or these arrangements have outlived their original purpose and goal (Bosnia-Herzegovina).
- High unemployment, underdeveloped economies and infrastructure, the absence of efficient legal and administrative mechanisms, corruption and organized crime, poor social prospects, and low standards of living are holding back the development of economic and social self-sustainability of some states of the region.
- Regional cooperation is an important component of stability in the region. This cooperation should be forward-looking, based on common Euro-Atlantic aspirations. In this context, open issues should be settled (return of refugees and displaced persons, missing persons, responsibility for war crimes, settling property issues, etc). In that regard, let me point out the trilateral Sarajevo Agreement on comprehensive return of refugees, signed between Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the goal to settle this issue until the end of 2006.
- Croatia strongly supports its neighbours, Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina in joining the PfP. We also participate in the NATO Program for facilitating the defence reforms in Serbia and Montenegro.
- Let me underline the example of a successful trilateral co-operation between Croatia, Albania and Macedonia in the framework of the US-Adriatic Charter, which will shortly result with sending a joint medical team in Afghanistan.
- Our active engagement in the regional initiatives and processes, such as Stability Pact, Adriatic Charter, Adriatic-Ioninan Initiative, the Quadrilaterale, CEI, CEFTA, SEECP, SEDM and many others, will continue and grow.
- The euro-atlantic integration of the South East Europe will represent a decisive step towards widening the zone of European stability. Given the opportunity, Croatia can be an anchor of stability in the Southeast Europe. And long-lasting stability within the region will undoubtedly be a vital contribution to the stability of the European continent as a whole.
- The Kosovo problem remains a very sensitive and important issue for security and stability in the central Balkans, although, thanks to the international community's involvement, it does not pose a danger for wider destabilization. There is some encouraging progress in Kosovo regarding meeting of standards, yet it still falls short when it comes to the return of refugees, the integration of Serb and other ethnic minorities, and particularly in securing the participation of the Kosovo Serbs within the Kosovo political structures.
- We are expecting the international evaluation of the standards. Regarding the status issues, we fully share the position that there can be no return to the situation prior to 1999, and that the solution for Kosovo must be European in its nature - in terms of ensuring democratic development, human and minority rights, effective government, regional stability and prosperity and the integration perspective for the region. We will support the results that will be achieved in the direct negotiations between Belgrade and Priština, with the active participation of the international community. In that regard, common endeavours of the EU and US are imperative.
- The process of negotiations on status issue must pay full respect to the territorial integrity of neighbouring states.
Serbia and Montenegro
- We are aware of the advances made within Serbia and Montenegro regarding market reforms and latest positive development regarding Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY, and the Ovčara crime court process in Belgrade. We are concerned, however, that the reform-minded democratic forces are not overwhelmingly strong and are internally divided in Serbia, and that the reform processes are weak. The results of the Radical Party are particularly worrisome, as its policies are potentially destabilizing for Serbia and its neighbourhood.
- The structure and functioning of the central government remains dysfunctional and points to the practical existence of the two separate systems within the country. It is up to Belgrade and Podgorica to resolve the issue of creating a functional federation or a functional separation, with the respect of existing legal regulation and international standards. Still, in our opinion this issue is not of wider security consequence.
- Advancing the internal legal and political system defined by the Dayton Accords is a basis for the further development of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This reform should ensure autonomous, functioning and efficient decision-making in respect to state governance, and should contribute to the consolidation of economic sustainability of the country. Five administrative levels, an over-expensive state that the economy is unable to sustain, as well as different concepts of the country’s main political parties concerning the constitutional and political development of the country, are slowing down the path of reform and the Euro-Atlantic integration process.
- A clear Euro-Atlantic perspective for Bosnia-Herzegovina would encourage and act as an impetus for the development of a modern, democratic, multicultural and multiethnic state. To ensure such development, Bosnia-Herzegovina should carry out the outlined reforms that are a precondition for signing the Stabilization & Association Agreement.
- The Croatian policy towards Bosnia and Herzegovina is guided by respect of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. We are hopeful that the progress Bosnia and Herzegovina has made in meeting the European criteria, especially cooperation with the ICTY, will open the way to the start of the negotiations on the Stabilization and Association Agreement before the end of the year, as well as for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s inclusion within the PfP as soon as possible.
- We are of the opinion that the international community, and particularly the EU, should - within the process of integration negotiations - encourage the reforms intended to strengthen the central government and the equality of the three constituent peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- Croatia gained the status of a candidate country for European membership last year, which makes Croatia, according to the EU's own accession criteria, the most advanced country in the region. Croatia's relations with the SEE countries and furthering of regional co-operation are one of our foreign policy priorities and strategic goals. Peace, stability and prosperity in the neighbourhood are of our vital national interest.
- Croatia as a full-fledged member of the EU and NATO will be able to act as an external anchor of stability and the catalyst of democratic development in the countries of South East Europe.
- We have already taken our share of responsibility and actively promote such development in the region. A few years ago Croatia started to exchange its experiences on the euro-atlantic integration with the countries from the region. The ever increasing bilateral as well as regional co-operation among our police and justice officials in combating transnational organized crime and terrorism serve as an example of good neighbourly relations.
- SE Europe is at an historical crossroads - the chances for a historical breakthrough toward European standards and Euro-Atlantic integration are colliding with unsettled ethnic, political and other issues. Croatia firmly believes that the answers to these questions should be sought only through peaceful measures, in the spirit and on the basis of European standards.
- The prospects of admission to the Euro-Atlantic integration process and the acceptance of its standards as a foundation for building modern states is crucial to the stabilization and democratic development of SE Europe. These prospects for each individual country in the region will provide additional motivation and strengthen enthusiasm for the development of democratic standards, human rights, and the creation of a positive climate for the economic and general development of society.
- In joining the Euro-Atlantic integration process, it is essential that all countries of the region have the political will, vision and leadership to meet Euro-Atlantic standards. It takes time to achieve results. Results will come if the process is right.
- The admission of the SEE countries into the Euro-Atlantic integration process on the basis of their individual merits and achievements will result in: (i) the extension of the European stability zone (individual admission of each country is a step toward closing the security gap in the underbelly of Europe); (ii) encouragement for enthusiasm toward further reforms; (iii) assistance to the EU and the international community for their activities in the region.