The NATO and European Union has supported its partners in the Western Balkans on their respective integration paths, but its recent coolness towards the Balkans has raised doubts that these efforts will ever yield a result.
“Russia, China and the others are seeking their place in the Balkans and how much of that they will get depends on how much Europe will give them,” Milo Dukanovic, President of Montenegro, said at the event. “And that’s why I would like to invite the NATO to do their job in our region, stop repeating only that the door is open” he said.
Kosovo’s president is hopeful about reaching a deal with Serbia this year on normalising ties despite a recent increase in tensions and said a planned meeting on July 1 in Paris could prove a turning point.
Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, speaking at the same event in Slovakia on Friday, said he was more pessimistic but that both sides must keep seeking a compromise.
“This process (of trying to normalise ties) is now in crisis, which brings opportunity for final agreement,” Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci told the Globsec conference in the Slovak capital Bratislava.
“I believe this agreement can be reached this year.”
On Friday Vucic told the Bratislava conference he aimed to maintain peace in the region.
“I’m very much pessimistic (about a deal),” he said.
“We need to find a solution. If the political situation today is that bad it means other people will have to do it in the future. We need to find a solution, it has to be a solution in which both sides make concessions.”
President of Montenegro Milo Đukanović said that there is no plan B for the country when it comes to the European Union, adding that Montenegro has become a member of NATO and has advanced in European integrations more than other countries.
He warned that Balkans need to become EU’s zone of responsibility because geographically it is part of Europe.
“There are new players at the geopolitical scene and we have to open our eyes or else we would be very surprised. Russia, China, and others are seeking their place and their position in the Balkans. And how much they will get, depends on how much EU and NATO will give them”, warned Đukanović.
Answering the moderator’s question about the newly opened highway which was Chinese investment in Montenegro, Đukanović said that they didn’t have any room to choose any other offer. The offer that they got from China was so much more favorable that they couldn’t do anything else.
“Why haven’t we offered such a solution and such bid from European Investment Bank (EIB), why did we get it from China? Because China is taking the space, the EU leaves empty”, concluded Đukanović.
On the other hand, the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić doesn’t see the problem with Serbia cooperating with non-EU actors such as Russia.
Speaking about Serbia’s trade agreement with Eurasian Union, he emphasized that it is very important for exporting Serbian goods to that market. On the other hand, Serbia is on the EU path and it will not be part of the Eurasian Union.
“If you ask me if we are going to conclude more arrangements with Russia and with China for the sake of our people – yes we gonna do it. And no one can stop us in that”, said Vučić and added that he will also always say to Vladimir Putin in person that Serbia’s strategic goal is the European Union.
Ekaterina Zaharieva, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria, said that Bulgaria wants to see all six Western Balkans country in near future, became part of the European family.
She thinks that EU leaders must not meet once in 15 years with the leaders of the Western Balkans, but must consistently support European integration of the Western Balkans.
“We continue after the presidency to be one of the strongest supporters, we organize meetings, delivering expertise and of course continue to convince more enlargement skeptical European member state that it is a win-win process“, said Zaharieva and added that she believes that the European project will not be complete without Western Balkan states.
Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) Majlinda Bregu thinks that regional cooperation is not going forward and reminded that when she took office, she traveled the region.
She also pointed out that the EU will never be complete without the Western Balkans, and added that transformation and reconciliation through economic development are things that can really happen in the region.