Newsletter 2/2010 - From Brussels angle

INTERVIEW with Eduard Kukan, Chairman of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with Countries of South East Europe

“RCC, an important platform for facilitating cooperation in South East Europe”

Mr Kukan, what can the Western Balkans and Turkey expect to see as key challenges on their European integration path?

I think the biggest challenge ahead is to keep the pro-integration processes going on. These processes should not stop, be put aside or slowed down for whatever reason.

Turning to more specific issues, the rule of law or fight against corruption and organised crime remain for some countries major problems. It should also be a priority for the Western Balkans and Turkey to ensure the freedom of expression, freedom of media from political interference and guarantee the independence of the regulatory bodies.

In case of the Western Balkans, we always emphasize the full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It is a fundamental condition for the countries to make progress on the path to the EU membership. I would also like to stress the importance of good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation as a prerequisite for an unhindered enlargement process.

How can the European Parliament contribute to a faster EU integration of the countries of the region?

The European Parliament can and should play a very important role in this process. Traditionally, the European Parliament has always been the staunch supporter of the European integration and that position continues today. Under the Lisbon Treaty, its position vis-a-vis other European institutions has been strengthened. In many issues it has the codecision power, so it can positively influence and push the other European institution not to waste time and move forward with the process of enlargement without any unnecessary delay. Within this framework, the activities of the EU Parliamentary delegation for South East Europe will definitely have positive impact on the process for the countries of this specific region.

What will the countries gain by joining the EU?

The countries of the region will be in a stable political and economic environment which could help them in their further development. However, I would also like to stress that the benefits should be mutual in this case. The EU would like to see prosperous and stable region which, once being a member of the EU, can contribute to its progress.

Where do you place building human capital in the context of South East European efforts to become part of the European Union?

Building human capital is definitely one of the most important prerequisites for the success of the efforts of the countries of South East Europe to become a part of the European Union. Investments into this field are a very wise and smart move. The success of all the new members of the Union very largely depends on the readiness of its citizens to cope well with the requirements the membership puts on them. It should be in the best interest of the governments of candidate countries to be very deeply aware of this and behave in a very responsible way.

How important is regional cooperation and the work of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) for the enlargement process?  And how can it contribute to increasing competitiveness of individual countries and the region as such on the European market?

Regional cooperation is crucial in this process. First of all, it allows the countries of the region to establish closer relationships with each other. This can bring greater economic and political stability for the whole region. Secondly, it gives them necessary skills to deal with future cooperation within the EU. And finally, if properly executed and managed, it sends a positive signal to the European Union. I think that the RCC plays an important role in this process as a platform which helps facilitate this kind of cooperation.

The role of the Regional Cooperation Council is instrumental to increasing competitiveness of individual countries and the region on the European market. It can provide the best expertise and advice for the individual countries in the region how to proceed with the projects of regional cooperation as the best preparation for cooperation on the European scale, after they become EU members. The RCC should, based on the experience it has, provide expert-like, concrete information, practical pieces of advice on the most important, relevant issues which, if used properly, should strengthen competitiveness of the countries in the region on a European level.

Is there an enlargement fatigue within the EU?

I am not very keen to use the “enlargement fatigue” as an excuse for slowing down the enlargement. After Lisbon Treaty, the EU has all the necessary instruments to proceed with these processes. I am confident that the political will to take the Western Balkans countries in the EU will not be an issue once the Copenhagen criteria are met. Moreover, you can see that Spain confirmed the priority attention to the Western Balkans in their presidency programme.

Do you see the global economic crisis in any way influencing European integration of Western Balkans and Turkey?  

In principle, I do not think that it should cause considerable delay to the process. Nevertheless, it has certainly affected the ability of the countries to cope with some criteria set by the EU. It is clear that during the economic slowdown the region will face even bigger challenges to fulfil these criteria. However, in my opinion, it is also a good opportunity to be inventive and proceed with reforms which could bring the countries closer to the EU. 

In your opinion, is there enough public awareness in South East Europe of what the EU stands for and can bring to the people of the region?

I am glad to see the strong support to the EU integration coming from citizens of the region. This is a very positive sign. Nevertheless, it is also a signal for the governments to provide more information concerning their work on EU integration. I think that the governments have still much work to do in explaining to their citizens both the benefits and the obligations related to the EU membership.

Do you think that RCC activities could complement these efforts? 

Definitely. It should also be your mission to spread the message around.

A distinguished Slovak diplomat and politician, Eduard Kukan was elected member of European Parliament in 2009. Prior to that, he served as Minister of Foreign Affairss of Slovakia for two mandates, Special Envoy for the Balkans and Chairman of teh UN Committee for Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs.Kukan is a member of the Board of Advisors of the Global Panel Foundation. 


Eduard Kukan, Chairman of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with Countries of South East Europe. (Photo RTRS)

Eduard Kukan, Chairman of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with Countries of South East Europe. (Photo RTRS)