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Foreign Secretary reflects on Kosovo and the region

An Op-ed by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on the occasion of his visit to Kosovo


My first visit to the Balkans as Foreign Secretary comes at a particularly poignant moment. To be in this corner of Europe on the 11th of November - the 98th anniversary of the end of the First World War - is to remember the suffering and the shattered hopes of that tragic era.

Some people ask what Britain’s impending departure from the EU will mean for the Balkans – and here I can offer reassurance. My country is leaving the EU, but we are emphatically not leaving Europe.

On the contrary, our aim will be to strengthen our ties with our European friends, including in the Balkans. Once we have left the EU, I want Britain to raise the ambition of its foreign policy and become even more active on the world stage.

On this trip, I will be visiting Belgrade, Pristina, Zagreb, Valletta and Prague. We all share the same values and face similar threats, ranging from organised crime to terrorism and radicalisation.

As we confront these problems together, we do so on the basis of relationship that goes back many centuries. The Emperor Constantine was born in the Balkans, but he was crowned Emperor in York in the north of England.

I am proud of the role that Britain has played in Balkans. In the 1990s, we focused on stabilising the region and bringing peace, making difficult choices that I know not everyone agreed with. Today, the Western Balkans has moved on from the days of conflict and we are working with you to ensure that these gains are never reversed.

We will do whatever we can to help. That is why I’m delighted to announce that Britain will host the Western Balkans Summit in 2018. This will bring together leaders from the region and across Europe to deliver our shared aims of security, stability and prosperity.

Britain will continue to help all the countries of the Western Balkans to continue along their Euro-Atlantic path. This is the time of year when the European Commission’s Annual Enlargement Package is published. No-one is surprised that it calls for more steps to open up national economies and to improve respect for the rule of law. After all, the countries of the region have set out these goals themselves.

The UK is well placed to do help you deliver these goals. We are increasing our practical support for your efforts, drawing on British companies and the technical assistance we can provide. The UK has world-class expertise, including in regulatory reform, entrepreneurship, innovation and improving the business climate.

Of course, we share threats as well as opportunities. We are all affected by the ghastly civil war in Syria, which has spurred migration and empowered terrorists. We cannot address these challenges alone; we need to work together, share information and learn from each other. We want to build up partnerships with you in these areas, and I look forward to discussing these further during my visit.

In Pristina, I will discuss with Kosovo’s leaders their thoughts on the country’s future, including normalising relations with Serbia - surely the most important task of all. I will launch a new programme from the Westminster Foundation for Democracy designed to help strengthen Europe’s newest democracy. I will also meet those from the UK and Kosovo who are working together to counter organised crime, corruption, and radicalisation, as well as the bitter legacy of the 1990s.

And finally, I am looking forward to opening the new British Embassy in Pristina - a visible symbol of our commitment to our friendship with Kosovo and its people, forged in war but nurtured in peace. The Western Balkans continues to be of huge importance to the UK, and we will do all we can to help your success.

Published 10 November 2016