Speech by Minister Haavisto on Western Balkans at Bled Strategic Forum
Key note speech by Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto on Western Balkans at Bled Strategic Forum on Tuesday, 3 September 2019
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I am very happy that Western Balkans are high on the agenda here in Bled Forum. When Brexit dominates headlines, we should not forget those countries that seek to integrate more with the European Union. Finland welcomes these efforts and we are happy to take them forward during our EU presidency.
Western Balkans are at the very heart of Europe and I believe that furthering accession talks benefits both the EU and countries and peoples of Western Balkans. The importance of the region is widely recognized among EU Member States.
I must add that I also have a personal interest towards the region. My own international career started in Western Balkans in 1999 when I coordinated the UNEP investigation of immediate threats to human health and the environment arising from the Kosovo conflict.
Recently, during my travels in the region, I have also talked a lot with the youth. Many young people I met have a strong interest in participating fully in the European community and building a better Europe. Their aspirations gives further urgency to the importance of continuing on the path of integration.
Future agenda for the Western Balkans should include the following items:
Tackling climate change. Every country should join the effort and it should at the heart of Western Balkan’s regional cooperation.
Artificial intelligence, raise of the robots etc. are big changes, but let’s be brave and find out what possibilities they will give. You could be frontrunners in this technological revolution.
Youth. Young people have a strong European identity and are eager to participate in building a better Europe. We must give them an opportunity. Also in this respect, it is crucial to maintain the credible perspective of the EU membership. Moreover, it is vital to invest in student exchange programs and use other practical tools.
Brain drain is a serious problem, which the EU and Western Balkan countries must tackle together.
Reconciliation. Prespa agreement is a wonderful achievement. Next, we should make Serbia-Kosovo Dialogue a success story.
Better communication. The EU doesn’t have any hidden agenda and we must communicate openly what the EU is and what it does. We must communicate better also inside the EU and explain the benefits of enlargement policy to our citizens. This is something I have done in my home country already in first weeks as a minister. However, communication is above all a task of Western Balkans countries themselves: to explain what are the benefits and obligations of the EU integration.
Rule of Law is a cornerstone of stable and well-functioning society. This is an area where each of the Western Balkan country has significant room for improvement. Especially fight against corruption, fight against organized crime and improving media freedom should be at the top of the list.
One could say that we talk too much about Rule of Law. But, there are reasons for that. Rule of Law is at the very essence of European integration and idea of Europe. It is about our values, the very idea that the EU stands for. Human rights, democracy and the rule of law. These apply to both candidate countries and Member States.
To conclude, efforts to further integration between Western Balkans and the EU are very important to both sides. I believe this development to benefit all by creating more stability, wellbeing and opportunities, especially in everyday interactions between citizens.