Posted 15.06.2012 07:02:02 UTC
Updated 07.08.2012 14:01:38 UTC
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolia Mladenov said in his opening speech of the forum that the primary aim of the forum was to restore the Balkan countries' place to the EU agenda. He said further that the existing problems in the Balkans could only be resolved by integration with the EU. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov who also took the floor said he wanted to see all Balkan countries as EU members. One of the major messages which came out of the forum is that there is no alternative to the region's EU accession process.
Regional relations with the EU were at the forefront of the discussions conducted as part of the forum. Although the issue of distrust many Balkan countries have with regard to their neighbours and the region's unresolved national problems were not unmentioned, it was also pointed out that those problems could easily be sorted out during the EU accession process. That process, it was also stated clearly, would be highly conducive to the continuation of the democratization process in the region and the development of the rule of law. Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic said the Balkans became a more stable region on the path to EU membership and regional countries were no longer a matter of discussion as before.
The Deputy Chief of the German Marshall Fund Ivan Veivoda said that if Balkans did not occupy the agenda of the international community today, it was because of the expectation to join the EU. According to Veivoda, EU's "soft power" continued to work out in the Balkans. However, some panelists said the EU was not economically a centre of attraction for the Balkans as it had once been. They argued that the regional countries hoped for a bigger development owing to EU funds but were disappointed to see through the euro zone crisis that EU membership was not a clear and definitive economic guarantee.
Laza Kekic from the Economic Intelligence Unit said that what was seen historically was an increase of prosperity in the Balkan economies in the periods when western economies enjoyed economic burgeoning. The economic malaise in the euro zone has found its echo in the Balkans in the way of imports, direct foreign investments and the remittances sent by migrant workers. Kekic said further that Albania, Serbia and Croatia more reliant than others on foreign investments and the remittances from migrant workers feel more acutely the fallout from the crisis in the euro zone.
The EU countries which have traditionally made investments in the Balkan countries have recently been replaced by such countries as China, Turkey and Russia , a fact which the participants were reminded of at the forum. It was also made clear that political uncertainty was something they should get rid of in order to draw more foreign investment. What was pointed out additionally was that the Balkan countries had but few choices in the way of growth models and that politicians should focus on policies for long-term economic improvements rather than those to save the day. Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said that the regional politicians should part with the policies of the past and concentrate on the economy of the future.
What was also said at the forum was that the Balkan countries generally covered considerable ground on the way to EU membership but that the reform process in the region worked rather slowly. Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Laichak said, in that context, that EU membership was not a gift, that the EU owed no such debt to the Balkan countries and that EU membership was something to be deserved only by honouring the reforms. Germany's special envoy for the Balkans, Turkey and the EFTA countries Nikolaus Graf Lambsdorff said carrying out the reforms on paper alone would not be sufficient and important steps needed to be taken in implementations too. What is understood is that so long as the euro zone crisis persists, the process of the Balkan countries' EU accession will last longer and be more troublesome.