Thanks, Damon. It really is a pleasure to be here. Thanks also to Fran for inviting me and giving me this opportunity to address what I know will be a valuable workshop over the next day or two.
As Damon mentioned, it’s not something — it’s not just something I would have wanted to address anyway, but it’s particularly timely given the trip that Secretary Clinton just took to the region accompanied in part by EU High Representative Ashton.
I’d like to begin with a point that Damon also stressed in his introduction which is putting this in some global context. I think it goes without saying that the United States at this moment is facing a world full of tremendous global challenges. The conflict in Syria, the transition in Afghanistan, the economic slowdown in Europe, the challenges in North Africa, and we’ve been obviously responding to those challenges on a day-to-day basis — but the point I want to begin with, that again Damon you alluded to, is even as we face these tremendous challenges all over the world, we have never lost sight of the fact that we maintain a deep and historic interest in the Western Balkans, which is a part of the world where the United States has invested so much and where we have so many friends and interests, and I think the Secretary’s most recent visit to the region just a couple of weeks ago reaffirmed that abiding American commitment to supporting democracy and stability and prosperity in that region.
Just as the United States and the European Union are working hand in hand on these global challenges, as some of you have heard me address our partnership and cooperation with Europe globally here and elsewhere, we’re doing so in the Balkans, and I can’t stress that point enough.
It’s not a competition. Indeed, on the contrary, we know, we in the United States know, we cannot succeed in the region without Europe and Europe cannot succeed without us.
The prospect of EU membership has provided a strong incentive for countries to reform their economies, to advance their democracies, and to make peace with their neighbors, and we in the United States have strongly supported that process in Central and Eastern Europe, where it’s been an enormous success, and we strongly support it in the Balkans.
Again, I think this very close cooperation was most visibly demonstrated by the joint trip that Secretary Clinton and High Representative Ashton took. Secretary Clinton hasn’t done other joint trips with foreign ministers, but here we thought it was important for them to show up in some of these countries together. They went together to Bosnia, to Serbia and to Kosovo, with exactly the same message for the peoples and leaders in the region.
Their joint visit reaffirmed our continued commitment to integrating all of the Balkan region into Europe and into the West, and we’ve said many times that in our view Europe will never be complete until all of the Western Balkans are fully integrated.
At the same time they were able to make clear that progress depends on political leaders’ willingness to overcome the divisions and the narrow nationalism and the inflexible economies that have no place in the 21st century.
So let me say a few words about how the United States sees the current situation in the region, and I’ll do so by addressing the countries in the order in which the Secretary visited them, starting with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Earlier this year after a 16-month political stalemate, Bosnia appeared to be getting back on track with the formation of a government and the adoption of laws needed to advance its Euro-Atlantic integration. However, this progress stalled several months ago over narrow personal and political agendas as well as attempts to stoke ethnic fears.
Ongoing efforts to reshuffle the state and federation governments are an unwelcome distraction from the economic and political priorities, including EU-NATO membership, that the main parties profess to support.
The priorities are clear: a functional and sustainable government, respect for state institutions and the Dayton Framework, and completion of the steps required for advancing the EU and NATO membership processes.
Now that Bosnia has successfully held local elections, Secretary Clinton and High Representative Ashton called on political leaders to complete immediately the requirements needed in order to submit a credible EU candidacy application and to activate NATO’s Membership Action Plan this year.
While we have no illusions about the difficulty of this process, we know that it is the only path to a prosperous and stable future for the country.
In order for Bosnia and Herzegovina to keep pace with positive developments elsewhere in the region it must also be able to function as a state that can deliver results for all its citizens. Rhetoric challenging Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity continues to raise doubts about whether politicians in Republika Srpska are truly committed to the Dayton Framework and EU integration. Secretary Clinton made clear in Sarajevo that the United States strongly supports the Dayton Framework — one state, two entities and three constituent peoples. Republika Srpska is and must remain a constituent part of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Let me say a few words about Kosovo and Serbia, both of whose Euro-Atlantic aspirations the United States strongly supports.
As you know over the last 18 months the United States has backed an EU-facilitated dialogue that seeks to normalize relations between these neighbors in order to provide stability in the region as well as the lives of people in both countries.
We agree with our European allies that a country can’t join the European Union when it lacks normalized relations with its neighbors. The dialogue, this EU-facilitated dialogue, achieved some practical results including agreements on freedom of movement, common recognition of diplomas, of land records, Integrated Border Management, and Kosovo’s participation in regional forums. While there were initially delays in the implementation of these last two agreements, we are very pleased that the new Serbian government that was elected last spring has taken the necessary steps towards resolving differences, and expressed its commitment to EU integration — signing the implementation protocols on Integrated Border Management, and allowing the agreement on Kosovo’s regional participation to move forward — these are both encouraging steps.
On October 19th the Prime Ministers of Serbia and Kosovo met together with High Representative Ashton in Brussels. At this first meeting in a new phase of the dialogue at that level, Prime Minister Dacic and Prime Minister Thaci both showed a commitment to the process and agreed to further meetings.
Secretary Clinton and High Representative Ashton’s visits to Belgrade and Pristina underscored the unity of the U.S.-EU position as they encouraged both governments to fully implement the agreement which was reached already and to take concrete steps towards solving the impasse over Kosovo’s north.
Ashton again hosted Prime Ministers Dacic and Thaci in Brussels on November 7th, further demonstrating their mutual desire to find a comprehensive solution to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
Let me be clear. The United States strongly supports Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as do more than 90 other countries around the world, including the vast majority of European Union members. Neither we nor the EU expect Serbia to recognize Kosovo at this point, but Serbia will have to normalize its relations with a democratic sovereign independent multi-ethnic Kosovo within its current borders — partition is not an option.
To move forward, Belgrade should end its support for the parallel security, governing and judicial structures in northern Kosovo and work with the international community to ensure freedom of movement for all. This in no way means abandoning Serbs, as some have alleged — on the contrary, rather than asserting territorial claims Belgrade could support in a transparent manner the welfare of Kosovo’s Serbs who would benefit enormously from normalization. Belgrade could work to find solutions that will give people there a normal life for the first time in 13 years. The status quo of isolation, wide-spread corruption and insecurity serves no one’s interests.
At the same time Kosovo must continue to develop multi-ethnic democratic institutions and extend decentralization in order to allow local communities in the north as well as in the south to make more of their own decisions. We also expect Kosovo to respect the rights of all communities including Kosovo Serbs, and to preserve and protect their cultural and religious heritage.
On Serbia specifically, the United States continues to work with Belgrade to strengthen economic and business opportunities, enhance our military cooperation, and counter organized crime. Serbia has the ability to become a leading force for stability in the region. It is in our mutual interest to see Serbia prosper and achieve its European aspirations.
Turning to Kosovo, the country has considerably strengthened its political institutions over the last four years. The decision by the International Steering Group to end supervised independence in September validated this progress. However, work remains to be done on strengthening the rule of law, fighting corruption and organized crime, and tackling unemployment. The EU has clearly laid out the reforms necessary for Kosovo to continue its progress towards European integration, including the benchmarks for visa liberalization identified earlier this year, and the feasibility study released in October that identified no legal barriers to establishing a Stabilization and Association Agreement.
Kosovo’s serious engagement with Serbia and active reform efforts demonstrate its desire to be a constructive partner with a clear European perspective.
Following these joint stops with High Representative Ashton, Secretary Clinton continued on to Croatia and Albania.
Croatia has proven to be a true leader in the region as its rapid reform progress led to NATO membership in 2009 and will lead to EU membership this coming July. Croatia’s successful integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions should demonstrate to other candidate countries that despite talk of so-called enlargement fatigue, the EU’s door really is open to countries that fulfill their responsibilities and meet the criteria — reform your economies, reconcile with your neighbors, meet democracy and human rights standards, and you will ultimately join the European Union.
Momentum resulting from Croatia’s transition should be cultivated as a model throughout the region.
Notwithstanding Croatia’s considerable progress to date, more work remains to be done. In Zagreb, Secretary Clinton called on the government to continue efforts to improve public administration in the justice system, fight organized crime and corruption, and implement structural economic reforms.
The Secretary completed her trip in Albania. Her visit to Tirana came at a historic moment as she helped mark the 100th Anniversary of the country’s independence in a speech to the parliament. For many years Albania was Europe’s most isolated country under an oppressive dictatorship. Over the last two decades it has worked to strengthen its democracy and reform its economy. Albania joined NATO in 2009 and has become a valued member of the Alliance.
The European Commission’s most recent progress report recommended EU candidacy status for the country pending passage of key pieces of legislation. Secretary Clinton made clear that Albania now stands at a critical juncture and she highlighted the need for free, fair, and transparent elections in 2013.
She also called on members of the parliament to work across party lines and move quickly on passing EU-mandated reforms. In particular, Albania’s leaders must choose to leverage the progress achieved thus far by passing judicial and public administration reforms and revising parliamentary rules of procedure. The government also needs to make a concerted effort in fighting corruption and organized crime.
Finally, although the Secretary was unable to visit Montenegro and Macedonia on this trip, she underscored her commitment to the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of both countries in phone calls with their leaders after her visit to the region.
Montenegro has made solid progress towards NATO membership and opened EU accession negotiations earlier this year. In addition to holding successful elections last month, the country has also made important improvements in the areas of democratic governance, rule of law and media freedom. However, Podgorica must continue to address corruption and organized crime at all levels of society.
On Macedonia, the United States remains invested in the country’s success. We continue to support the growth of civil society and strong democratic institutions as well as efforts to institutionalize principles of diversity and inclusion throughout government and society.
Although Macedonia has made progress in inter-ethnic relations, we are concerned about tension between communities and political divisions. We also remain troubled by continued reports of government interference with the independence of the judiciary and the media.
As you all know, Macedonia’s name dispute with Greece continues to thwart its aspirations for NATO membership and the start of EU accession talks. We’ve been very clear that we were disappointed last spring that NATO was unable to welcome Macedonia at the Chicago Summit as we had hoped. But as NATO is a consensus organization, Macedonia and Greece must first resolve their bilateral disagreement before the Alliance can fulfill the membership offer that was offered at the Bucharest Summit.
Recently the Greek and Macedonian Foreign Ministers have exchanged letters reaffirming each side’s commitment to resolving the name issue and we strongly support the ongoing UN process on this issue and we will embrace any mutually acceptable solution that emerges.
It is clearly in the United States’ — as in the interests of Europe and the entire Balkan region — that Macedonia plays its full role in both NATO and the EU.
In closing, let me just say a few words about the overarching challenge of economic recovery. The United States has a profound interest in Europe’s stability and growth, so I’m pleased to see that this workshop will also discuss the impact of economic issues on regional integration.
The political challenges that I have focused on today have undoubtedly been exacerbated by Europe’s economic difficulties. The economic slowdown in Europe could have been an opportunity for Balkan leaders to focus on pressing domestic challenges including the need for rule of law reforms in the promotion of a stable investment climate. Instead, it has led to a worrying increase in nationalist rhetoric and the reemergence of chauvinism as a political rallying point.
Foreign investors will continue to bypass countries plagued by corruption, cronyism, weak state structures and political instability. By strengthening their economies as well as their political institutions, Western Balkan countries can become democratic, prosperous and capable allies that can contribute to Euro-Atlantic efforts to address global challenges.
The United States, working in close partnership with the European Union, remains committed to completing the unfinished business of Europe. However, as Secretary Clinton and High Representative Ashton also made clear, local political leaders must move past ethnic divisions and personal interests and focus on delivering the genuine reforms demanded by their citizens. If they do, they can count on the continued Trans-Atlantic support until Europe’s democratic process is fulfilled.
Thank you all very much for your attention, and Fran, I look forward to continuing the discussion with you on stage.
Cross posted from IIP Digital.