|On the first of May 2004 the European Union welcomed 10 new members. There was more to celebrate than just Europe`s biggest enlargement ever: the event carried a strong historic dimension, celebrating Europe`s reunification.|
But the map of the new Europe will not be complete as long as the south-eastern piece of the puzzle will be missing. Romania and Bulgaria have been given some more time to conclude their accession deal, and five countries of the Balkans hope to catch the train they missed because of a decade of war and destruction.
They've come a long way… Balkan countries now sit around the same table, and work together on their European future, within the specific mechanism of the Stability Pact.
When this mechanism was launched, the countries of the former Yugoslavia were far from cooperating. In July 1999 in Sarajevo, just after the Kosovo conflict, a gathering of world leaders came to put a symbolic end to the cycle of wars and open a new chapter for the region.
Five years later, Southeastern Europe is a lot more stable. And the role of the Stability Pact has evolved from reconstruction and conflict prevention to Euro-atlantic integration. For Stability Pact Special Coordinator Erhard Busek, the main priority is to make the countries fit for European integration.
Erhard Busek, Special Co-ordinator of the Stability Pact (Eng)
`The region is bordering the EU, on the other side it is bordering the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, the near East and Central Asia. That is of a great importance. I think that the Stability Pact in the region and sustainable solutions in the region are quite important, not only for us Europeans, but also for the neighbourhood. That's why the next step of EU enlargement is quite logically, and also announced by the Thessaloniki summit, South East Europe.`
In June 2003, the Thessaloniki Summit gathered the whole of Europe and offered a clear perspective of EU membership to Western Balkan countries. But they should show their European commitment through a strong reform agenda, and demonstrate their readiness for regional cooperation. The message is clear - in order to cooperate with Brussels, you have to cooperate with your neighbours first. The Stability Pact focuses exactly on that - the cooperation among countries of Southeastern Europe.
`If you are neighbours you have to live together and to sit together to improve the framework conditions. This is regional cooperation. And here after 4 wars and having a new map in the region it is quite necessary to develop it and to bring them together.`
The stubborn insistence of the SP on regional cooperation provoked grumbling among Balkan politicians. Still, the magnet of European integration made regional leaders realize they had a lot to gain from it.
Ivo Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia:
`We must develop good relations with all our neighbours, with all neighbouring countries as well as with countries of Southeastern Europe. We want to have good relations with Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, Albania, Romania and Bulgaria. We want good relations with all of them.`
The Stability Pact mark its fifth anniversary with key achievements.
At the initiative of the Pact, a network of free trade agreements has been formed and this network will evolve into a common, 55 million people-market in Southeastern Europe. This helps attracting investments, since from a business perspective, the region becomes interesting if considered as one single market.
In the energy sector, the Pact brought a major mind change: from the illusion of national self-sufficiency to cross-border cooperation. With some well=intended pressure from donors, leaders from the region realized they could save billions, and they are now preparing a Regional Electricity Market fully compatible with the EU.
Return of refugees was high on the agenda of the SP. Brokered by the SP, cooperation among regional leaders helped remove political obstacles to find sustainable solutions for all. As a result, over the last three years, people returned in record numbers.
Free and independent media are also a core objective of the SP. All countries are confronted with formerly state controlled media, which need to be brought outside of government control, ensuring editorial independence.
To fight human trafficking, cut down on drugs trade and change the reputation of the Balkans as a key route for organised crime, a joint crime fighting center has been established in Bucharest, where police and customs of all the countries of the region work under the same roof, and are also cooperating with Europol and Interpol.
In all these fields of regional interest, the Stability Pact offers a natural and normal `European` model of consultation amongst South East European governments. What was initiated as a condition by donors did pay off. Some say that it's just many words and few deeds.
Erhard Busek (Eng)
`I think you have no alternative than sitting together, and you can always criticize the way in which it was done institutionally, and here we are open for critics. But the fact that it is happening is very important. And I may say that nobody wanted to go out of the St. Pact, therefore there must be some reason that it is a very helpful instrument.`
But many think Stability Pact meetings are unique opportunity to get acquainted and compare their experiences with those of their neighbours.
Besim Becaj, Stability Pact coordinator for Kosovo
`This is as well a good opportunity for Kosovo, being part of the Stability Pact through UNMIK. And this gives us the chance that the Kosovo voice would be heard in the region and we appreciate the Stability Pact' pragmatical orientation towards inclusion of Kosovo in the regional co-operation according to UN resolution 1244.`
Jelica Minic, Stability Pact co-ordinator for Serbia-Montenegro
`I think that the Stability Pact has already fulfilled its role in facilitating cooperation between the countries of the region. I think that it's function will be completed when we will cease to need its support and be able to develop our regional projects on our own and lobby for them internationally.`
The countries of SEE are taking the process more and more in their own hands.
So far, about 10 initiatives created under the Stability Pact umbrella have successfully been transferred to SEE capitals. For example, a center for the collection of small arms and light weapons is now based in Belgrade. In Zagreb the Sava River Commission is based, under which four riparian countries of the Sava will jointly coordinate the protection and management of the Sava river basin.
The Special Coordinator sees this as the practical fulfillment of his mandate
`Sometimes there are some problems for the role of the Stability Pact and for the role of the EU but if I may say --it's here in Brussels. Because sometimes we know what they have to do, but the real approach must be that they have to learn by themselves what they have to do and we are only assisting.`
The very fact that heads of governments call on each other nowadays just as naturally as elsewhere in Europe, is one of the key achievements of the Stability Pact. Beyond this process, there is a strong driving force: the prospect of EU integration.