- From Brussels angle

INTERVIEW with Joost Korte, Deputy Director General, Directorate General for Enlargement, European Commission, Brussels

Regional cooperation, more than just a tool for South East European countries to achieve EU membership

Mr Korte, what are key achievements in regional cooperation in South East Europe in recent years?

Regional cooperation is the essence of European integration. It is, thus, an essential element of the process of moving closer to the EU, to which our partners in South East Europe (SEE) aim. The transition from the Stability Pact to the regionally-owned Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) is a major success. The first four years of the RCC's operation can be deemed successful, especially when taking into account the fact that the new organisation had to set up its structures, establish its presence and gain the trust of partners in the region – which, I am happy to say, the RCC has indeed achieved.

Regarding specific achievements, I would like to mention the agreement on the Regional Strategic Document on Justice and Home Affairs and its accompanying Action Plan, the transfer of the SEE Investment Committee from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to the RCC, and the establishment of the Task Force on Culture and Society which will continue the work of the Council of Europe on the Ljubljana Process on Cultural Rehabilitation. Also, we should not overlook the progress achieved in the area of security cooperation, with the multiplication of meetings of security and defence officials and experts from the region.

How do you assess the current state of affairs in regional cooperation in South East Europe?

Regional cooperation faces, in my opinion, two main challenges: efficiency and inclusiveness. Despite the significant progress achieved in recent years, especially when it comes to sectoral regional cooperation – also through the work of specialised organisations such as the Energy Community and the South East Europe Transport Observatory – these two challenges have not been entirely met. Regarding inclusiveness, I welcome the fact that all regional partners were present at the RCC Annual Meeting on 13 June 2012. I hope that this will be repeated in all regional meetings and I call, once again, on all partners to be pragmatic, and participate fully in these meetings.

Concerning efficiency, I am happy to say that the first year of the implementation of the RCC's Strategy and Work Programme 2011-2013 has made important steps in this direction, but a lot remains to be done in order to streamline the work of regional initiatives and task forces avoiding duplication.

In your view, what are the bottle-necks of a fully-fledged regional cooperation when it comes to commitment of individual SEECP participating states?

The commitment of our partners in South East Europe towards regional cooperation is well-established. They all understand the intrinsic value of regional cooperation, not only as a criterion they have to fulfil on their way towards the European Union (EU), but as a cornerstone of the European integration project.

However, there are obstacles which need to be overcome. The example of the recent SEECP Summit and the failure to adopt a declaration at the end of it is a case in point. This does not place in doubt the commitment of the region to cooperation; it only demonstrates that further efforts need to be made to achieve fully-fledged cooperation.

Another issue I would like to raise is that of implementation: there are numerous occasions where declarations, political statements, joint statements and agreements have been adopted by the region, including on sectoral cooperation. These need to be implemented, and we look to the RCC to play a more active role in this regard, monitoring their implementation. We also look to the RCC to monitor regional cooperation in general – as it has been doing – identifying gaps that need to be bridged, and suggesting ways to bridge them.

How do you see an increased role of the RCC in advancing regional cooperation to achieve the region’s common goal – European integration?   

Allow me to repeat what I said earlier: regional cooperation is not only a tool for the countries of the region to achieve their goal of joining the EU. It is that, of course, but not only that. Regional cooperation may, indeed, help the countries of the region achieve this goal, and not only as a condition that has to be fulfilled for this aim to be achieved.

On their way towards the EU, the countries of the region face common challenges: consolidating the rule of law, fighting corruption and organised crime, preparing to adopt the acquis on areas such as the environment, transport and energy. These challenges can be more efficiently addressed when they work together. By exchanging best practices, closing any gaps (for example, in judicial cooperation), achieving common solutions to environmental problems, but also by delivering know-how and expertise. Allow me to say that we look to Croatia to play a leading role in this and transfer the know-how from its successful negotiations to the other candidate countries and potential candidates.

Last but not least, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the current Secretary General of the RCC, Mr. Hido Biščević, for his efforts in establishing the RCC as the main regional cooperation partner in SEE, and to welcome his successor, Mr. Goran Svilanović. I am confident that the excellent cooperation established between the RCC and the Commission will continue, to the benefit of the region but of the EU as well.

Joost Korte has been Deputy Director-General for Enlargement since January 2012. Prior to that Korte, among numerous other duties, was Director responsible for Relations with the Council, Commission representative in Coreper II (July 2009 to January 2011), G8 Foreign Affairs Sous Sherpa (since October 2010) and Advisor at the General Secretariat; Head of Cabinet of Commissioner for Regional Policy Danuta Hübner; Deputy Head of Cabinet of Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten. He was also Lecturer in the Law of International Organisations at the Europa Institute, University of Utrecht, and Leverhulme Visiting fellow in the European Community Law at the Centre of European Governmental Studies, University of Edinburgh.


Joost Korte, Deputy Director General, Directorate General for Enlargement, European Commission, Brussels (Photo: courtesy of Mr. Korte)

Joost Korte, Deputy Director General, Directorate General for Enlargement, European Commission, Brussels (Photo: courtesy of Mr. Korte)