The Slovenia Times

EU Future Key for Western Balkans



Debating under the title What Is Next for the Balkans? Responsibility, Power to Progress, Perspectives, panellists at the eighth annual Bled forum stressed that implementing necessary reform in the region will be much easier with the support of European partners.
Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić highlighted that the Western Balkans had long been subject to triangular geopolitics with pressure from the east, west and south-east. He argues this is a trend which the current generation has a chance to break via European integration.
"It would be a tremendous failure if this generation fails to make use of this historic opportunity," he said, adding that such a failure would be the responsibility of the EU as well as of the region itself.

No middle ground

Both Jeremić and his Montenegrin counterpart Milan Roćen said their countries are working hard to meet the criteria required to gain a date to start accession negotiations with the EU. Both also argued they were worthy of this step.
The Serbian minister warned that a halt in the accession process after Croatia joins the EU could cause regression. "A stoppage is an illusion," he said, adding that the history of the Balkans shows that matters in the region either progress or regress. Without momentum he believes regression is inevitable - a "move back into very dangerous territory," Jeremić warned.

Friends in high places

Roćen expressed confidence that Montenegro would have an easier time in the accession negotiations than Croatia and Slovenia before it, because it will be able to rely on those countries' experiences: "Slovenia and Croatia did not have such close friends to rely on as they went through this process as we have in them," he said.
High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina Valentin Inzko showed optimism and pointed out that, in spite of some difficulties, the countries of the region have never been closer to EU membership than they are now. "It is not a question of whether these countries will be in the EU, but when," he argued.
He did add that there is a domestic responsibility to push along the process: "In Serbia and Montenegro, there is a strong sense of purpose and urgency. We wish this would appear in Bosnia-Herzegovina as well."
Inzko argued that the region must be aware that working together pays dividends, giving it much greater leverage abroad. "If the region works together - we're talking about 55m people - the potential is huge."
Touching on open controversies in the Western Balkans, Jeremić stressed that Serbia was "ready to work with partners in the region and abroad to resolve the issue of Kosovo in a mutually acceptable way".
Vice President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) Jan Fischer was also at the panel and suggested that cooperation in the areas of transport and infrastructure offered the potential for bringing the region closer together.

Gains for everyone

Commenting on the importance of the integration of Western Balkans into the EU, portfolio manager at KD Skladi Sašo Šmigić, says: "There is evidence that central Eastern European markets and particularly South Eastern European markets are not yet integrated in global portfolios since their expected returns reflect higher standalone risk excluding their lower covariance with global portfolios."
He adds that integration will have a huge positive impact on the region: "Convergence toward the EU will attract foreign capital flows into the region as markets become more liberalised and countries complete the privatisation process."
"This will have a positive impact on the cost of capital, increasing the economic activity and potentially further increasing the trend growth rates of the economy."
Šmigić concludes that "moving toward integration with the EU will force SEE countries to speed up the structural reforms necessary to satisfy EU requirements which would further lower the cost of capital and contribute positively to economic growth."


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