Remarks of the UK Foreign Secretary to the EU-Western Balkans High-Level meeting

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The meeting marked the 10th anniversary of the Zagreb Summit at which the EU launched the Stabilisation and Association Process and the European perspective for the Western Balkans

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague with Bosnian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sven Alkalaj/photo by Jasmin Gagula BiH MFA

The British Foreign Secretary the Rt Hon William Hague attended the EU-Western Balkans High-Level Meeting in Sarajevo on 2 June.

The meeting, organised by the Spanish Presidency with the support of the European Union, marked the 10th anniversary of the Zagreb Summit at which the EU launched the Stabilisation and Association Process and the European perspective for the Western Balkans. At the high level meeting, the EU reaffirmed its unequivocal commitment to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries.

This was a view strongly endorsed by the Foreign Secretary during the plenary session. In his remarks to the meeting he said:

‘I am grateful to the Spanish Presidency for their initiative in convening this meeting and to our hosts, the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I am delighted to be here in Sarajevo in one of my earliest overseas visits as British Foreign Secretary.
The new British coalition Government attaches great importance to developments in the Western Balkans and fully supports membership of Euro Atlantic structures for all the countries of the region.

Enlargement of the European Union is to us a vital strategic goal: a means to create stability, security and prosperity across Europe on a firm foundation of democracy, the rule of law and shared values. A European Union without the Western Balkans would forever have a disillusioned and disenchanted hole near its centre. So achieving this long-term goal will be a major test of what the EU can accomplish in foreign affairs and will require firm action from European countries as well as concrete steps by the countries of the region to fulfil the European Union criteria.

We believe that the international community must sharpen its focus on the Western Balkans until these countries are fully and irreversibly on the path to joining the EU and NATO. The EU must pursue a clear, determined, firm, and active approach that is focussed on delivering results. We need to be consistent in our application of conditionality, rewarding genuine achievement with genuine progress. The region must, in our view, meet the required conditions rather than the conditions being adapted to the region. We must also be ready, where there are difficult problems, to take firm and united action.

We consider the prospect of EU membership to be an unparalleled opportunity for the citizens of the Western Balkans, with the hope of entrenching stability and prosperity and of turning the page on difficult chapters of the past. But it will require the countries of the region to take concrete steps to meet the criteria set by the European Union in a genuine merit-based process. It will demand that they show sustained effort, political leadership and firmness of purpose. It also requires qualities which are fundamental to the way in which we do business in the European Union - flexibility and readiness to make well judged compromises, acting with determination to find acceptable solutions when interests differ. These qualities are essential for resolving the internal blockages which are impeding reform in some countries in the region. They are also crucial for resolving outstanding bilateral differences which, if not tackled, risk becoming obstacles to each other’s progress. Regional political leaders owe it to future generations to deliver stability, openness and progress so that young people in the region can be confident of a prosperous and secure future.

In that context I welcome very strongly some of the recent steps towards reconciliation and co-operation. The Istanbul Declaration signalled important commitment by Turkey, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to work with common purpose. The recent resolution passed by the Serbian Parliament condemning the tragedy of Srebrenica was a welcome step towards reconciliation. I would also like to welcome Slovenia and Croatia’s Brdo process as a fresh start in cooperation in the Western Balkans. Clearly I would like to see such regional cooperation continue and intensify.

The UK therefore welcomes this discussion and the opportunity to hear from colleagues in the region about the challenges they face – and to learn more about how they can work together to promote their common interests, committed to overcoming differences in a spirit of mutual support. We look forward to genuine and constructive debate about these issues. I and the British Government then look forward, in the weeks and months ahead, to joining with regional and EU colleagues, in close co-operation with Baroness Ashton and Commissioner Fule, in a sustained effort to put the countries of the Western Balkans irreversibly on the path to joining the EU. Britain will be a committed and reliable partner in this effort.’

Foreign Secretary William Hague visits Sarajevo


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