By Tzvetina Borisova
The top diplomats of Bulgaria, Romania and Greece have joined hands to enhance the EU prospects of their neighbours from the Western Balkans, at a time when the bloc is facing the most serious crisis in its history.
“As member states of the EU and neighbouring countries, we are firmly attached to the fulfilment of our common objectives of increased prosperity, stability and security in the area and the whole of Europe,” Bulgaria’s Nikolai Mladenov, Romania’s Teodor Baconschi and Greece’s Stavros Lambrinidis stated in a joint letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule and EU Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn on October 10th.
“It is of crucial importance that the EU is not distracted by other pressing issues,” the ministers warned, referring to the financial woes that member states have been experiencing amid the ongoing eurozone crisis.
“A steady progress in the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkan countries is key for avoiding potential prolonged instabilities and uncertainties,” they added.
The three countries suggested a strategy focused on three major objectives: adoption of European standards, facilitating the development of European economic projects in the region and genuine regional co-operation.
“What seems particularly important at the time being is how the region could better benefit from the structural and cohesion funds within the EU’s new budget,” Vesela Cherneva, spokesperson of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, told SETimes.
“It is important that countries from the region maintain their enlargement perspective. In a situation of crisis, this can only be achieved if they observe EU rules and criteria, including the financial ones,” she said. “What we can do and have been trying to do for the past year-and-a-half is work for the resolving of the small and specific hurdles to the Western Balkans’ EU accession.”
In its 2011 strategy paper adopted earlier this month, the European Commission outlined a number of challenges facing the European future of the region. Among them are the rule of law, including the fight against corruption and organised crime, as well as freedom of expression, reconciliation, regional co-operation and economic growth.
“It is also important that outstanding bilateral issues between Western Balkan countries and neighbouring member states be addressed constructively and solved by the parties concerned,” Ana Paduraru, Fule spokesperson, told SETimes.
“Bulgaria, Greece and Romania, as well as other member states neighbouring the Western Balkans are well placed to assist their Balkan peers that aspire to join the EU. They know well the countries and the region and their own experience in joining the EU is particularly relevant,” Paduraru said.
According to Romanian European Parliament Member Victor Bostinaru, vice-chairman of the delegation for relations with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, “the perspective of joining the EU, as in the case of previous enlargements, plays a key role in speeding up the reform process in all countries concerned.”
“The only possibility to win stability, co-operation, and to avoid new crises in the Western Balkans, is to integrate those countries. Otherwise, instability or disputes of any kind could arise, calling the EU to play a difficult role and to pay a high price,” he told SETimes.