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South-Eastern Europe Conference

Joint Article by Hungary’s Foreign Minister Martonyi and Germany’s Foreign Minister Westerwelle to mark this year’s Aspen Institute South-Eastern Europe Conference (23 November 2012 in Berlin). Published on www.welt.de on 22.11.2012.

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The enlargement of the European Union has enabled us to overcome the division of Europe by the Iron Curtain. This is one of the successes of the European peace policy, for which the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. However, the unification of our continent is not yet complete: the European peace project will remain unfinished unless we draw the countries of the Western Balkans towards the European Union. We are therefore still committed to a Euro­pean future for this region.

The prospect of EU accession remains the most important engine for reform and regional cooperation in the Western Balkans. After the bloody hostilities in the 1990s, the enlargement process made a crucial contribution towards peace and stability in the region. Today Slovenia is a member of the European Union and part of the eurozone. The fact that Croatia is due to follow in its footsteps soon is a clear signal that the door to the EU remains open. It is up to the countries in the region to take the next steps on their road towards the EU. Every country will be judged by the progress it has made and will determine itself how quickly it moves towards the EU. The European Union will support them along this path of reform and transformation. It recently strengthened its presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina to that end.

Strict and fair conditions are crucial. Only if the political and economic accession criteria are complied with in full, can we ensure that every new member state meets the high European standards and that it can fulfil its rights and obligations in the EU in their entirety. The condi­tions attached to the accession process are essential if we are to regain the confidence of Europe’s citizens in the European Union’s capacity for enlargement.

Fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, including the fight against corruption and organ­ized crime, are especially important to us. In this respect, our expectations correspond in full to the reforms which citizens in the region are demanding of their governments. The new negotiating framework with Montenegro, which lays a clear and strong emphasis on this, points in that direction. Albania, too, recently took a major step towards modernization and adopted key laws which now have to be implemented as a matter of priority.

Another result of the European learning process is that no bilateral conflicts can be imported into the European Union. Europe is first and foremost a peace project. Those who want Europe must therefore also want concord and reconciliation with its neighbours. Reconcilia­tion between former adversaries is the key prerequisite for a common European future.

We expressly welcome the fact that – thanks to the mediation efforts of the European Union’s High Representative, Lady Ashton – the Prime Ministers of Serbia and Kosovo are currently gathered around the table for the first time. Hard work and perseverance on the part of the two parties during the coming months are vital if relations between Pristina and Belgrade are to be normalized.

By offering the region an EU accession perspective back in 2000, the EU member states made a commitment. We stand by this commitment, without any ifs or buts. For the enlargement policy is in the EU’s strategic interest. The move towards the EU has proved to be an excel­lent means of fostering stability and reform. This is also evident in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia where the Ohrid Framework Agreement remains the indispensable basis for the peaceful co existence of the population groups in Macedonia.

The future of the countries in the Western Balkans lies in the European Union. Germany and Hungary will be reliable partners as they proceed along this path.

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