Newsletter 14/2011 - From Brussels angle

INTERVIEW with Stefano Sannino, Director General, Directorate General for Enlargement, European Commission

Implementation of RCC strategy one of regional successes of the past 12 months

Mr. Sannino, now that Montenegro's South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) Chairmanship-in-Office has ended, what do you see as most significant results of regional cooperation in the previous year?

During the past twelve months, the region has made significant progress, both in moving closer to the EU, and in promoting regional cooperation. Significant achievements were made, for example, in the promotion of intra-regional trade through CEFTA and the area of Justice and Home Affairs through the adoption of the Regional Strategic Document 2011-2013 by the members of the SEECP. And, perhaps most importantly for the efforts to achieve lasting reconciliation there are encouraging signs that the Sarajevo process on refugee return is advancing positively.

These political developments were achieved during Montenegro's Chairmanship-in-Office of the SEECP, and the country worked hard to advance the South-East European Cooperation Process. The beginning of the implementation of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) Strategy and Work Programme 2011-2013 can be seen as one of the successes of the past 12 months. Within this framework, the inauguration of the RCC Task Force on Culture and Society, in Cetinje, was also a big step in transferring ownership of regional cooperation to the region itself.

Of course, the progress achieved does not mean that all challenges have been addressed. There are still a number of untapped possibilities that regional cooperation can explore in order to promote joint solutions to common problems.

Given the South East European (SEE) countries' EU aspirations, how do you see regional cooperation further developing under the new, Serbian SEECP Chairmanship-in-Office?

Regional cooperation is an essential element of the Stabilisation and Association Process guiding the European perspective of the Western Balkans. It also has an intrinsic value, as it is one of the founding principles of European integration. The European perspective of the region can only be promoted if our partners in the region cooperate with each other. The SEECP and the RCC as its operational arm can play a leading role, by moving forward the regional cooperation agenda and promoting EU-related reforms. I am confident that Serbia, as the current Chair-in-Office of the SEECP, will do its utmost to move forward the European integration agenda of the region.

What are the weakest points of regional cooperation in SEE and how can they be overcome?

In order to be efficient, regional cooperation must also be inclusive. It is necessary that flexible and pragmatic solutions are found, allowing the participation of all partners in regional initiatives, in accordance with these initiatives' statutes and rules of procedure. There is also a need for streamlining regional cooperation initiatives, and I welcome the work already done by the RCC in this respect.

What are the EU priorities when it comes to including the SEE region into the EU trends?

The challenges facing the region are well-known and important: strengthening the rule of law, the reform of the judiciary, public administration reform, economic development, respect for freedom of expression and the media, resolving the remaining bilateral issues. These are all areas to which the Commission attaches great importance.

In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges for regional cooperation in SEE countries, given their different statuses in relation to the EU?

It is true that in the SEECP – and the RCC – there are EU Member States, candidate countries, potential candidates and aspiring countries. Their relations with the EU are, thus, by nature, differentiated. However, this does not need to have a negative impact on regional cooperation. On the contrary, the experience of each country can help its neighbours move forward their own process towards the EU. Croatia, for example, now due to become the next EU Member State, can transfer the know-how acquired through its negotiation process to its partners in SEE who are not yet EU members.

What do you think should the RCC's focus be in the next year?

For the Commission, it is clear that the focus of the RCC should be the continued implementation of the Strategy and Work Programme. We welcome the establishment of the Task Force on Culture and Society, which will take forward the Ljubljana Process, and we look forward to the transfer of ownership of the South East European Investment Committee (SEEIC), from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to the RCC, this autumn. These two projects, funded by the Commission, mark important steps in the development of regionally-owned and efficient regional cooperation. The RCC should focus, of course, on ensuring inclusive regional cooperation. Moreover, we expect the RCC to play an active role in translating the targets and priorities of the Europe 2020 Strategy so that it can be applied in the region. It goes without saying that in all these activities, the RCC will have the practical support of the Commission, and the EU in general.

Stefano Sannino assumed duties of the Director General at the Enlargement Directorate General of the European Commission in July 2011. Among his numerous duties in the long diplomatic career, Sannino earlier worked as Deputy Director-General for Enlargement, Deputy Director-General in the DG External Relations in charge of Asia and Latin America, Director for relations with Latin America, Director for Crisis Management and Representative of the Commission to the Political and Security Committee (PSC), Diplomatic Advisor and G-8 Sherpa to the Commission President and Diplomatic advisor and  Head of Cabinet to the Italian Minister for Foreign Trade. Stefano Sannino holds a degree in Political Sciences from the University of Naples.


Stefano Sannino, Director General, Directorate General for Enlargement, European Commission (Photo:

Stefano Sannino, Director General, Directorate General for Enlargement, European Commission (Photo: