By Slovakia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Bratislava,
Ensuring stability and progress in the western Balkans.
We come from different places. The central and the northern part of the European Union. An ‘older’ member state and a more recent one. One of us has recognised Kosovo. The other has not. But we share the hope of seeing Serbia and Kosovo come to terms with their past, to see them find ways to co-operate efficiently, to improve the lives of their people and to focus on their European future. And we will do our utmost to support them in their endeavours.
We believe that it is in the interest of the EU to ensure stability and progress in the western Balkans. We have learned the hard way that we cannot take either for granted and that reconciliation and development demand both compromises and dialogue in the region as well as a wholehearted engagement from the side of the EU. One of the key drivers of the recent positive economic and democratic changes in the region has been the EU enlargement process and the clear obligations that have to be fulfilled as part of the process. Denmark and Slovakia remain fully committed to the European perspective for the whole region.
We are particularly encouraged by the progress demonstrated lately in the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo under the auspices of Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief (“Old foes take important steps”, 21-27 February). We have seen the leaders meet repeatedly and approach sensitive issues – something that could not have been anticipated just half a year ago. Both sides and leaders have shown great courage and determination in coming this far.
This sends a signal that both Belgrade and Pristina are sincerely dedicated to the EU process and to creating a better future for their societies. They are aware of the needs and conditions set by the EU. They realise that it will take hard work. Changes are needed in many areas, not least in strengthening the rule of law. And reconciliation and further progress towards normalisation of relations are prerequisites to advancing in the EU track.
The months ahead are crucial. Spring offers the prospect for both Serbia and Kosovo to move forward on their respective European paths – for accession negotiations to be opened with Serbia and negotiations for a stabilisation and association agreement to be started with Kosovo, provided that the necessary progress is made. We are now awaiting the assessment by the European Commission and by High Representative Ashton of progress made, due in April. We hope that both Serbia and Kosovo will show the leadership necessary to take bold and courageous decisions.