Newsletter 4/2010 - From Brussels angle

PARALLEL INTERVIEW: Miguel Angel Moratinos, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain

Progress in European integration of Western Balkan countries needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis

Mr Moratinos, what are the main challenges for the countries of South East Europe in meeting the criteria for EU membership?

The European perspective for the countries of South East Europe was drawn up at the Zagreb summit in the year 2000. Three years later, in 2003, the Thessaloniki Agenda was established in this Aegean city. This Agenda consisted of an ambitious Stabilisation and Association Programme through which the European Union proposed the signing of specific agreements with each country which meant important commercial and import duty concessions in exchange for meeting certain conditions. The content of this conditionality was based on meeting the so-called “ Copenhagen criteria” which consist of implementing the rule of law and a democratic political system and also a free market economic system. To achieve this, it was necessary to make important reforms to the justice system, the administration and the economic structure of each country. Equally, another condition was that the countries in the region commit to undertaking the reforms needed to adapt and incorporate into their judicial legislation all the communitarian acquis.

The challenges the South East European countries face in order to meet the conditions vary as the degree of their progress in the European perspective differs. Some countries need to improve their co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), others need to implement important constitutional reforms to adapt their country to the European Convention on Human Rights or to make this functional, some of them need to further develop the rule of law, or resolve outstanding bilateral problems with the neighbouring countries. In short, the situation of the region's countries with regard to their European perspective varies and the conditionality needs to be applied on a case by case basis.

What could be the added value of regional cooperation in this context?

Regional cooperation is an essential condition for consolidating the European perspective of these countries. The European Council of December 2009 included in its conclusions on the Western Balkans the need to further develop intra-regional cooperation as a key objective in order to fulfil the Association and Stabilisation Agreements with the European Union. The Regional Cooperation Council, working under the umbrella of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) will play a key role in fostering intra-regional cooperation and will act in accordance with the principles of inclusion, regional appropriation of the process and harmonisation of the different initiatives.

The Lisbon Treaty introduced several important changes for the EU. To what extent and in which way they affect the EU enlargement process?

The Lisbon Treaty has led to important constitutional changes in the EU. It has provided the European Union with a permanent President of the Council and a High Representative for foreign affairs. The exterior facet of the Union is institutionally stronger and more stable, and that will help ensure that the enlargement policy takes a stable path.

What are the key messages for the countries of South East Europe from the recently held EU-Western Balkans High Level Meeting in Sarajevo and what is the expected follow-up to the meeting?

The high-level meeting between the EU and the Western Balkans, which was held in Sarajevo on 2 June 2010 and organised by Spain's rotating presidency, achieved a number of objectives. Firstly, it managed to get all the region’s political representatives sit round the same table and, secondly, it reaffirmed the European perspective for the whole of the Western Balkan region, ten years after the Zagreb Summit and seven years after the Ministerial Conference in Thessaloniki. Despite the deep economic and financial crisis the Union is going through, it remains committed to the Western Balkans.

How do you appraise the results of the Regional Cooperation Council so far and see the organization’s role in the future?

The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) is the institution that has inherited the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe. It was created in February 2008 and has a permanent Secretariat based in Sarajevo. During the two long years since it was created it has consolidated its role as a key institution for coordinating the different regional initiatives, thus avoiding the dispersion of efforts and putting donors and investors in contact with the main development cooperation agents operating in the region.

A fundamental milestone in its consolidation as a key institution in the region was a recent adoption of its 2011-2013 Strategy, prepared in collaboration with the European Commission, which will enable the RCC to concentrate its activities on the strategic priority areas for regional development. The document also establishes the need to concentrate on those projects that will generate greater added value and will help bring about regional cohesion.

The Regional Cooperation Council therefore finds itself at a crucial point in its evolution and its performance over the next two or three years will be decisive in consolidating its role as a key actor for cooperation in the Balkan region. In this regard, the recent renewal of mandate of its Secretary General, Hido Biscevic, will greatly help the current team in their task to further develop regional cooperation over the coming years, guided by the principles and objectives established in the recently approved Strategy.

Spain held the rotating EU Presidency during the first half of 2010 and Miguel Angel Moratinos has been the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs since 2004. He previously performed duties of the EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process and Director General of Foreign Policy for Africa and the Middle East of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, amongst others. Mr Moratinos holds a degree in Law and Political Sciences, as well as several honours, including Knight of the Order of Civil Merit and Cooperation Prize of the Arab Journalists Association.


Miguel Angel Moratinos, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain (Photo:

Miguel Angel Moratinos, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain (Photo: