Newsletter 11/2011 - In focus
INTERVIEW with Dimitrios Droutsas, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Greece
RCC can play decisive role in stimulating regional cooperation in infrastructure, justice and home affairs, security, and building human capital
Minister Droutsas, how do you assess the overall political climate in South East Europe and can the recent spirit of rapprochement be translated into concrete cooperation? Do you see a possibility for major regional development projects, and in which fields?
There is no doubt that since the 1990s, South East Europe has seen substantial progress. Stability has been established, democracy has grown firm roots, economic development is on track. Surely, the main driving force behind all reforms has been the European vision, but I think we can also give ourselves some credit for having autonomously established a regional cooperation framework, the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP). For the first time in modern Balkan history, we have a platform that everyone in the region is participating in. As a forum for dialogue alone, this has indeed proved to be indispensable in critical times. Why not take the next step now? Why not cooperate on regional development projects that will make the lives of our peoples better, increase connectivity and create growth for everybody? Greece argues that there are fields in which such cooperation can bring tangible results: infrastructure related to transport and energy, justice and home affairs, security cooperation and building human capital. The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), as the SEECP’s “operational arm”, can play a decisive role in these areas.
How complementary is this approach to EU enlargement strategy and mapping the entire South East Europe within the EU?
In the past, the promotion of regional cooperation was treated with some scepticism. Many feared that regional cooperation would become a substitute for the European perspective of the Balkans. Not only did these fears prove unfounded, but they have also been refuted by EU policy itself. Today, it is common knowledge that regional cooperation, combined with good neighbourly relations, is a precondition for acquiring EU membership. I would even go a step further: regional cooperation is in fact paving the way for accession to the EU.
How do you view South East European countries in the European Union enlargement context – what do you see happening in 2011 and possibly beyond?
Each candidate country has made its own progress in converging with European values and practices. What is important is to highlight how this process is improving the citizens’ day-to-day lives. Look at visa liberalization for instance. Visa-free travel in the EU has been a reality for the citizens of several candidate countries since 2010. This was not a “gift” offered by the EU; it was an earned reward for having accomplished the targets set. If you are looking for a similar “highlight” in 2011, I think you already have one at hand with the launching of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. Facilitated by the EU, discussions are expected to revolve around three main themes: regional cooperation, freedom of movement and rule of law. The objectives of the talks are to promote cooperation and bring both Pristina and Belgrade closer to the EU.
What are the Greek regional priorities and how is Greece promoting the European perspective in the Balkans?
Greece’s priority is and has been the integration of the region into the EU. When we assume the EU Presidency in the first semester of 2014, our intention is to convene a new EU-Western Balkans Summit Meeting, a “Thessaloniki II”, in order to adopt a political declaration that sets a specific target for completing the accession process of Western Balkan countries. We will work with candidate countries both individually and regionally to support them in the reform process. If the “2003 Thessaloniki Agenda” fired the starter’s gun in the Western Balkans’ race towards the EU, we want the “Thessaloniki II” to ring the bell on the final lap.
You are a strong advocate of the Western Balkans Agenda 2014, aimed at setting a clear timeframe for accession of the remaining enlargement countries by referring to a somewhat symbolic anniversary in the history of the Balkans. How do you see the responsibility of the countries from the region to deal effectively with the remaining open issues in order to sustain this Agenda 2014 from their side?
The aim of our “Agenda 2014” initiative is to reinvigorate the candidate countries’ accession processes. To a large extent we consider that this goal has been met: last year’s Summit in Sarajevo is a clear sign that enlargement is back on the EU agenda. We want the message of EU commitment to the European perspective of the region to remain strong. But successful completion of the process lies primarily in the hands of the countries themselves. Intensification of reforms, regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations are the key to the enlargement process. Such requirements, however, should not be viewed as “frustrating hurdles” that need to be overcome; they should instead serve as useful incentives.
In view of the Regional Cooperation Council’s Strategy and Work Programme 2011-2013, what can the organization do to promote political, economic and social dialogue in the region aimed at unhindered and successful cooperation towards the common European vision?
In recent years, regional cooperation in South East Europe has increased considerably and has indeed been characterized by regional ownership of the process. The SEECP, with its operational arm, the Regional Cooperation Council, provides opportunities for taking up new initiatives in the context of the new Strategy and Work Programme 2011-2013. What remains to be done is to ensure that concrete results are produced by the RCC’s networking efforts. The RCC Secretariat has a strategic role in implementing regional cooperation and in identifying and addressing needs in regional activities. For us, the real challenge for the 2011-2013 Programme lies in making its economic and social benefits visible to South East European citizens, in the context of their aspirations to join the European family.
Dimitrios Droutsas has been Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece since September 2010. Before taking this position, Droutsas worked as Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) Secretary for Foreign Policy & International Relations and Director of the Diplomatic Cabinet of the President of Pasok. Upon completion of his studies at the University of Vienna’s School of Law in 1994, Droutsas embarked upon his academic career as assistant professor of European Law at the European Affairs Research Centre of the Vienna University. He has published and lectured extensively both in Greece and abroad on European Law, International and European Commercial Law, as well as Foreign and Defence Policy.