Balkans on the mend

by Limbic on January 29, 2008

Olli Rehn, the European commissioner responsible for EU enlargement, has an upbeat assessment of the future of Serbia (and the Balkans in general):

“People in the Balkans face a stark choice this year: their region could either finally resolve its outstanding problems from the wars of the 1990s or fall back into instability and extremes of nationalism. The first option would take them forward towards stability, prosperity and European integration. But many commentators believe the second is inevitable.

I disagree with the prophecies of doom. There is certainly a danger of instability, at the moment when Kosovo’s future status is on the point of being resolved. But the repercussions need not be destabilising if the EU gives a decisive and unified steer to ensure a coordinated response, as foreign ministers meeting today should be aware.

…There is much at stake in Serbia. The EU foreign ministers should today give a strong signal of Serbia’s European future by deciding to sign the stabilisation and association agreement shortly. Serbia is close to full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which is essential to allow the country to turn the page on one of the darkest periods in its history.

Serbia’s institutional capacity gives it great potential to move faster towards the European Union. It has the chance to draw closer to qualifying for candidate status, maybe even during the course of this year. Seldom have citizens had as clear a choice as the Serbs do now, between a nationalist past and a European future.

The EU is ready to welcome the citizens of Serbia into Europe, not just through a contractual relationship with their state, but also individually. This is demonstrated by the commission’s launch of a dialogue on visa-free travel for Serbs that will start this week.

The future for the Balkans can be far from dark. In the EU, there has never been a stronger political will to support the people of the western Balkans in opting for European values and living standards. But ultimately people in the region have to exercise their democratic choice to determine their countries’ future course.”

Balkans on the mend | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited

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