Prior to her departure for Tirana for the meeting of foreign ministers as part of the Berlin Process with the countries of the Western Balkans, Foreign Minister Baerbock today (5 October) issued the following statement:
The countries of the Western Balkans have already been waiting too long for their place at the European Union table. The young people in the region in particular are entirely clear that their future lies in the EU. And if Europe doesn’t come to them, they will find a way to Europe – with fatal demographic consequences for their countries.
Everyone now needs to roll up their sleeves to make sure that EU accession becomes a reality. The EU must keep its word on the promises it has made, and the countries of the Western Balkans must set in motion the necessary reforms.
Many countries have already made significant progress. Again and again, though, we also see setbacks, and new rifts open up that need to be overcome on the road to the EU: an unscrupulous attack on the Kosovar police, sporadic deployments of Serbian troops on the border with Kosovo, and Mr Dodik’s secessionist policy, which is paralysing the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
These tensions are holding the entire region hostage. They are hindering important steps towards reconciliation. They are toxic for investment. And they impede the region’s advance towards EU accession.
Against this complex background, the Berlin Process plays an important part in bringing about tangible improvements for the people of the region. Thanks to mobility agreements that have now been ratified by four out of six countries, the people in the region can cross borders much more easily. All they need is their identity card. University degrees and vocational qualifications are now recognised across borders. Roaming fees have been cut, making it easier to phone friends and relatives.
I am especially pleased that Albania is focusing this year on young people and science. It is vital to give talented young people prospects, so that they can build a future in their home country. At the weekend we are launching a Youth Culture Fund, with the aim of strengthening networks to create even closer ties between the youth culture scenes in these countries.
Healing the wounds of the past is painful; they persist for generations. True reconciliation takes time. But the path the people of the Western Balkans have chosen is the path to the future. It is the path to the European Union.