The European path and perspective of the Western Balkan countries is not possible without the support of the national parliaments and the European Parliament, said the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva. She took part in the Interparliamentary Conference on the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy. The two-day forum, organized by the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Defence Committee of the National Assembly, is the second event of the Parliamentary Dimension of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva stressed that the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries is not only a central priority of the Bulgarian Presidency, but also of the European Commission. This assurance was received yesterday from the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, she added.
It is most important to find a way to support the reforms in the countries of the Western Balkans, pointed out Ekaterina Zaharieva. She noted that at the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of EU Member States in Sofia a consensus was reached that the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries is a major priority that relates to thestability, security and prosperity of the entire EU. At the same time we agreed that as a Union, we must be willing to accept them when they fulfil the membership criteria, the Bulgarian Foreign Minister added.
The European Commission strategy for the Western Balkans is comprehensive, long-term, timely, honest, and does not give any empty hopes, but is also very stimulating and motivating, said Ekaterina Zaharieva. There are six specific initiatives in the document that are fundamental and will support the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries, she pointed out. The Bulgarian Foreign Minister defined as positive the possibility provided by the strategy for participation of these countries in various formats of the European institutions. This will enable them not only to prepare for membership, but will also provide them with the opportunity to express their opinion on matters related to the future of the EU and its policies, added Ekaterina Zaharieva.
In her address to the participants during the Interparliamentary Conference, Ekaterina Zaharieva pointed out that only the construction of corridor No. 8 would increase by 6 percent the gross domestic product of the countries through which it passes and would create 200 thousand new employment opportunities.
The Chairman of the Delegation to the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee in the European Parliament Eduard Kukan remarked that during its first Presidency of the Council of the EU, Bulgaria has an opportunity to show leadership and that the focus it places on the Western Balkan countries will be continued by the Austrian and the Romanian Presidencies. He pointed out that the inclusion of the Western Balkans is high on the agenda of the EU and expressed hope that this message will be heard loud and clear, and the partners in the region will understand that momentum has been created.
The conditions and criteria for accession are clear enough, stressed Eduard Kukan and added that the Copenhagen criteria of 1993 are the very fabric of our common project and are valid today. He recalled that the first criterion is linked to the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and monitoring of minority rights. According to him, improving regional cooperation is also of key importance for the future enlargement of the Union.
Eduard Kukan pointed out that the year 2025 must be seen as a benchmark and not as an obligatory deadline for acceptance of new members to the EU family. Anyone who assumes that they will automatically join in 2025, is wrong, he added. Instead of concentrating on the date itself, we should focus more on the reforms and on what needs to be done to facilitate the enlargement, believes the Chairman of the Delegation to the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee in the European Parliament.
It is necessary to strengthen the cooperation between the EU countries in the field of security and defence, noted in his statement the Managing Director of the European External Action Service (EEAS) for Europe and Central Asia Thomas Mayr-Harting.
Today we are experiencing economic growth and declining unemployment, but those are not enough for Europeans, because at the same time the uncertainty in our countries increases, added Thomas Mayr-Harting. He stressed that one of the most important tasks of parliamentarians is to understand the change in public attitudes. Citizens, in his words, want something new, they want security. They understand that the situation in the world is different, and that new times bring new dangers that could destroy what we have achieved in Europe, added Thomas Mayr-Harting. As politicians, we must understand and embrace the idea of a Europe that defends, he said.
The whole security environment, according to him, is changing and this requires strengthening cooperation in this field, said the Managing Director of the European External Action Service (EEAS) for Europe and Central Asia. We need a clear commitment from all Member States to improve our partnership on these topics, he added.
Thomas Mayr-Harting emphasized that the region of the Western Balkans already has its problems with organised crime and is vulnerable to the impact of external religious ideologies; it is also on the routes of the refugees. That is why it is very important to find the necessary instruments to make sure that the countries of the Western Balkans will remain stable, he added. In his words, currently political speed has been gained in the region and this opportunity should be used. It is particularly important to ensure that all those who want to enter the EU really share our European values and that their policies correspond to ours, added Thomas Mayer-Harting and mentioned that one of those possible instruments could be to hold fair and open discussions on security issues.