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March 10, 2017 | Friday

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The future of the entire region is in the European Union

Mimoza Ahmetaj

(Minister of European Integration)

 

The future of the entire region is in the European Union

The European Union is founded on the basis of three fundamental principles: freedom, equality and security. “World peace cannot be safeguarded without making of continuous efforts considering the dangers which threaten it. The contribution of European citizens is indispensable for the maintenance of peace”, was the idea and the vision of the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, founder and inventor of what is known today as the European Union. It took two World Wars to understand the significance of the terms freedom and peace.

On the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the other countries of the Western Balkans are facing the same situation that Schuman, Adenauer and Spinell faced at the beginning of this journey that made the EU the most advanced democracy, economic powerhouse with political stability and guaranteed rights for its citizens. At the same time, also the civilization responsible to what was invested a lot of efforts and that represents an inalienable value.

In this period when the EU is facing many challenges such as Ukraine crisis, refugees, extremism, Brexit, sufficient space has emerged to believe that the political forces of the extreme right will continue to grow and this will threaten the future of the EU. Presidential elections in Austria were the best indicator of the failed domino effect of Brexit. Also, the tendency to make constitutional changes in Italy did not produce increased anti-European currents. Although three EU founding countries, Netherlands, France and Germany, we will have elections this year, current indicators show that in all three countries chances of right extreme to win are far from reality and that pro-European forces will continue remaining in power.

The tendency of member states that governments of member states have more powers or detach from the EU, is best described by President Donald Tusk when he says: “This would only make countries align side by superpowers but in no way may have greater independence and powers from Brussels”.   

At this time the Western Balkans countries are experiencing a challenging period. All countries are at various stages of negotiation for EU membership. Some countries in pre- or post-election period, influenced directly or indirectly by Russia and, due to the tendency to dominate, make the region more insecure.

Although President Juncker’s program does not foresee the enlargement of EU in this mandate, each potential and candidate country marked progress on their path towards integration. Kosovo has signed the SAA, Serbia has opened accession negotiations, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina have gained candidate status, Albania expects by the end of the year to start negotiations in case it marks progress in justice reforms. Macedonia is a country which, due to neighborhood as well as internal problems, has stalled for years while the situation is becoming increasingly more complicated. Montenegro is the country that advanced the most in this process with the opening of some chapters and is close to NATO membership.

In these years we have had the opportunity to see that the EU integration of Western Balkans countries is the only choice that provides political stability, economic prosperity and security for our citizens who still live in a politically sensitive region. The Western Balkans is in Europe and borders with EU member states and is in the midst of roads connecting Europe and beyond in the south and north, east and west.

Regional cooperation and good neighborly relations will be key words that will help the region advance in this journey. The Western Balkans is a small market of 20 million inhabitants compared to the EU market with over 500 million. Only increasing the quality and competitiveness can make our products competitive in the European market.

In this process that requires boundless energy and willingness of the whole society, it remains our responsibility to reform our country in order that one day we become full rights’ member “and added value to the EU”, not an impediment as Commissioner Hahn said in one of the first meetings, shortly after his appointment as Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy.

Kosovo has young and educated population. She sits on boundless natural resources and has a wonderful climate, fertile land and all that is required of us is to continue the journey we have embarked on from the day of signing the SAA, which at the same time opened our path towards EU membership.  

The European Union will not be complete without Kosovo and the Western Balkans region. The visit of the High Representative Frederica Mogherini in Kosovo and the region twice within a year demonstrates the commitment of the EU on integration of the region as soon as possible.