Newsletter 24/2012 - From Brussels angle

INTERVIEW with Fernando Gentilini, Director for Western Europe, Western Balkans and Turkey in the European External Action Service (EEAS)

Regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations essential parts of enlargement process: RCC can be extremely useful  

Mr Gentilini, following the recently adopted EU Council conclusions, how would you assess the situation in the region of South East Europe?

The dynamics in the region are overall positive. Countries in the region continue to go through profound political and economic reforms, while societies remain broadly engaged in a process, which places the rule of law and democratic governance at its core. I have seen this happening with my own eyes in the field and from Brussels. In general, new opportunities have arisen for citizens and business alike. This process must continue. In December, the Council clearly restated its commitment to taking the enlargement process forward and reaffirmed its unequivocal commitment to the European perspective of the Western Balkans. As we know, this is an essential element for the stability, reconciliation and the future of the region.

The accession of Croatia, as well as the start of accession negotiations with Montenegro and the granting of candidate status to Serbia show that, when conditions are met, the European Union (EU) delivers on its commitments. I am sure that the rest of the region has taken good note of this. The ultimate goal of accession requires political commitment and a certain pace in the reform process.

What do you see as main bottlenecks of successful regional cooperation in South East Europe?

Despite their troubled and complex history, countries in the Western Balkans are today peacefully co-existing and working hard to fulfil their legitimate European aspirations. However, as a result of past conflicts, there are still a relevant number of unsolved issues which hinder the full potential of regional cooperation.

Issues between neighbours must be solved in a constructive spirit as early as possible, in line with EU interests and values. When needed, the EU stands ready to support these processes. As a concrete example, the EU is helping Belgrade and Pristina in a dialogue which is now conducted at political level by the two Prime Ministers and the facilitation of the European Commissions High Representative/Vice President (HRVP) Catherine Ashton. In this context good progress has been made in order to improve the lives of the people in areas such as the opening of crossing points in the context of Integrated Border Management (IBM) implementation, the free movement of people and goods, the recognition of university diplomas, the civil registry and the cadastre. The more implementation will proceed smoothly, the more we can expect positive repercussions also in terms of regional cooperation.

Indeed regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations are essential parts of the enlargement process. In this respect the Regional Cooperation Council can be extremely useful.

What would you highlight as the main priorities for South East European countries in the context of enlargement in the coming year?

The December Council conclusions clearly indicate the way forward for the entire region. In general, efforts must be sustained in the area of the reform of the judiciary, fight against corruption and organised crime, protection of all minorities, as well as the implementation of reforms. In the case of Albania, for instance, the successful conduct of parliamentary elections in 2013 will be a crucial test for the smooth functioning of the country's democratic institutions. Bosnia and Herzegovina for its part must bring its Constitution into compliance with the European Convention of Human Rights. A credible effort in this regard remains necessary for the entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.

The first half of the year will be crucial for Serbia/Kosovo and The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Progress on the EU facilitated dialogue and on the implementation of reforms will be key in view of further decisions by the Council. There is a lot of work to be done.

How would you asses the role of the Regional Cooperation council in terms of the organisation’s efforts to promote regional cooperation in South East Europe in key segments (economy, infrastructure, social development, building human capital, justice and home affairs, security cooperation, media, etc.)?

Firstly, let me stress that regional cooperation is a goal in itself. This should not be overlooked. Secondly, I believe, and this has been said in many occasions, that inclusiveness and ownership should remain overriding principles of any regional activity. The Regional Cooperation Council must continue to work to ensure that these two principles are translated into something tangible and concrete.

Indeed, regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations constitute an essential part of the Stabilisation and Association Process. This is not only important against the background of EU integration but it is valuable for the whole region in itself. Infrastructures, justice and home affairs, security cooperation, education, media and culture demand a more integrated approach. Progress in those areas will help to increase cohesion and development. It is good for the people of the region as much in terms of regional perspective.

Fernando Gentilini was born in Subiaco (Rome) in 1962. An Italian Diplomat, he is currently the Director for Western Europe, Western Balkans and Turkey in the European External Action Service. Former EUSR for Kosovo (2011); NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan (2008-10); Deputy Diplomatic Advisor to the Italian Prime Minister, Rome, (2006-08); Seconded to the Policy Unit at the EU Council Secretariat (2005); EU High Representative's Personal Representative in Kosovo (2004); Head of Unit for Western Balkans (2002-04) at the Italian Foreign Affairs Ministry.

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Fernando Gentilini, Director for Western Europe, Western Balkans and Turkey in the European External Action Service (EEAS) (Photo: www.kohaditre.com)

Fernando Gentilini, Director for Western Europe, Western Balkans and Turkey in the European External Action Service (EEAS) (Photo: www.kohaditre.com)