Published on: 30 November 2017

Speech of Minister Bushati at the conference: "A coming Storm: Shaping a future in the Balkans in an era of uncertainty" organized by the Atlantic Council

30 November 2017

Thank you!

I would like to echo on some of the points that have been presented also by the other panelists.

First, I would like to say that it is always a pleasure to come back here as Atlantic Council is a platform for discussion and also knowledge on Euro-Atlantic integration. It is house where we can learn from each-other, we can share our own experiences and I would like to thank once again the organizers for keeping the door open to all of us.

I have been listening quite carefully to all the panelists and we were speaking about the region and we like to speak about the region, but I am afraid we are not yet the region and I remember I have had more or less the same thesis when I appeared for the very first time here in this house because formally speaking yes. Situation in the Balkans is much more stable than it used to be 10-15-20 years ago of course.

 Formally speaking all Western Balkans countries are aspiring to become EU members. You have four official candidates. You can play with Western Balkans countries in different baskets. You can even call Macedonia and Albania professional candidates, if you would like.

When you see this process, when we started for the very first time it look a little bit distant, then in 96’ all countries in the region including Albania were offered an Europe agreement, like Bulgaria and Romania signed it at that time with European Union. But then, many things happened; internal, external, which affected also our region.

Secondly, if we speak about Euro-Atlantic integration, you have members of NATO like Croatia, Montenegro, Albania. No one was mentioning Kosovo here. Kosovo is seeking desperately to have an institutionalized relationship with NATO. NATO is not able to offer or to be in a creative mood as EU has been with Kosovo. There have been decisions that have been taken within the framework of NATO.

We, as foreign ministers were not able to deliver on Kosovo, for obvious reasons. Because of non-recognizers. There are countries like Serbia that are sitting in two chairs. There are statements coming from different officials, from different offices in the West. But, it is a fact. Nobody is able to prevent this, it is relative.

Then, you have got Bosnia and I am afraid Rosemary was advocating more on Bosnia’s path towards NATO than Bosnia’s officials themselves. Because in the last two years, I have noticed that representatives of government from Bosnia and here I am referring Bosnia and not different and various structures are not advocating anymore Bosnia joining NATO.

So, when it comes to these two elements, it is very difficult to speak about true region. And this is also reflected in the way how our region is responding to different challenges. If you analyze for instance, the level of alignment of foreign policy position to that of European Union, although four candidate countries, do have responsibility to align their foreign policy positions, with the exception of Albania and Montenegro, the other two do not do it.

Gruevski was going backwards and here I see my Macedonian friend. Every time I come here to Atlantic council, he will have a question or he will disagree with me. I hope this will be the case again tonight. But, this has been the situation in the Balkans and the first challenge, in my opinion is how to transform the Western Balkans into a true region, politically, economically and security-wise.

Then, there is also another element which I would like to touch upon. We should not fall on the trap of chapters and here I agree with Hedwig because we have a situation in the region where you do not always find the correlation between the chapters and the speed or the quality of the accession process. And you do not find this. The senator was mentioning the freedom of media which is a very important topic in our region.

Nobody is able to tell that a certain country, which appears to be on the accession table or appears to be a front-runner, has transformed itself. We do not want to become Sweden, maybe it is impossible for us to become Sweden. Maybe it is impossible for some other members of European Union to become Sweden. But, it is important to show this trajectory.

And sometimes, maybe it is my wrong impression that you is happy with certain leaders who are able to deliver but fail to democratize the society and fail to give a direct contribution for the democratization process in the society.

Therefore, it is very difficult to see this correlation between chapters being opened and democratization cycle. It is by no accident that you see more or less the same leaders. You see more or less the same political establishment in the region. And now we are entering also into this period of the network of tribunals and special prosecution units in all Western Balkans countries, taking inspiration, maybe from the experiences of Romania and Croatia.

There is always this paranoid discussion in town, because the common denominator of all these processes, have to do with the reshuffling of the public scene in all our societies. And this is a painful exercise for our societies. In terms of challenges, no matter whether Montenegro has opened 28 chapters and Albania is about to sit on the accession table, we are more or less facing the same challenges. Internally weak institutions and rule of law related challenges, corruption and organized crime, ethnic tensions. We have noticed last year in Mitrovica and Republica Srpska, economic disparity. There is a widening gap, not between Western Balkans and Western Europe, but we are experiencing a widening gap between Western Balkans and the so-called new EU member states. There is also a difference in the way how different the EU members are having access to the funds.

I will never forget the discussion I had with former President of Bulgaria. He was telling me that they are getting structural funds from European Union and for them it is easier to go for infrastructural project than Serbia, because Serbia has to rely only on the state budget money. So, which brings neighbors into a difficult situation. And it sometimes, believe me, is quietly unpleasant to hear neighbors telling to us you belong to Europe, you have European destiny. We are neighbors, we know that. But how this is being translated into concrete terms, nobody is able to tell us. And then we are entering also into a quarreling; who is being mentioned the first, who is sitting the first, who is the front-runner.

Hedwig said that we like Berlin process. You know why? There is no quarrel on how to sit around the table when Angela Merkel is calling leaders of the Balkans. Because of the German presidents, because of the German leadership. But if we are calling each-other, I am afraid old habits die hard. We start quarreling about who is sitting here, whether we would use national symbols and so on and so forth. And then, we lack having a proper substantial discussion also with our partners.

What is my proposal for the discussions? At least there would be three areas where I see the contribution of the United States and the coordination between United States of America on one hand and the European Union on the other hand, very important. I heard yesterday secretary Tillerson was saying that Europe should write its next chapter in the history by itself. It is very nice and I hope this is instigating more solidarity within the European Union. But what we learnt from the last 25 years is that American presence in our neighborhood, in Europe is indispensable. It is indispensable for issues related to security reforms.

Albania is a case in point. The whole transformation of intelligence service has been made through close cooperation and partnership with United States. This not the case yet in many Western Balkans countries. It is not yet the case in Macedonia, where we have seen intelligence service playing politics, being part of political games publically. It is not yet the case in Serbia, where you clearly see the influence of the so-called third actors in the intelligence service. It is not yet the case in Bosnia and we need to complete this cycle because this is very important, no matter whether other countries will belong to European Union one day or not.

Second, justice reforms and rule of law related reforms or I can put it in a bigger framework, Economic Rule of Law related reforms. Here U.S needs to be a little bit more present, as it was in the case with my country, with Albania. Whereas, European Union has the soft and if we speak about chapter 23 and 24 and obligations emanated from those chapters, we have to have a clear view on what is going to be the situation in our societies in 2 years time, in 4 years time, in 5 years time, not just to have this formal screening, where we are competing with each-other who is drafting the laws in a more speedy way.

And the third element is the economic development. And this is my very last point. Last 2 years, we have been working closely with European Union, as foreign ministers coming from candidate countries. Every six months, we are together with foreign ministers of European Union and you know what were the topics we have discussed for the last two years and a half? Terrorism, migration, so it has been only crisis management mood. But we were quiet successful. So, Western Balkans was acting as a security provider for the whole architecture of Europe, security architecture of Europe. But how comes, we are unable work on a compelling narrative that would bridge the gap between Western Balkans and European Union. Rosemary was highlighting the fact that people are fleeing from the Balkans. This is because of the lack of a clear economic perspective and we ought to be focused very much our efforts on this point too.

Thank you!


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