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Southeast European Times:Crans Montana reaffirms Southeast Europe's EU prospects

Published date: 18.04.2006 16:00 | Author: Kliping inostranih medija

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This year, for the second time in a row, the Crans Montana Forum met in Zagreb to discuss the European prospects for SEE countries. With Croatia recently having become an official candidate for EU membership, the mood was one of optimism about the future. The promise of joining the bloc has done much to spur democratic reforms and ensure peace and stability, participants said, stressing the importance of moving ahead with the enlargement process and keeping the promises Europe has made to the region.

Since 1989, the Crans Montana Forum has been organising gatherings aimed at spurring dialogue and creating partnerships at a high level among key figures in politics and the economy. For the second time in as many years, the Forum met in Zagreb recently to discuss the European prospects for SEE countries.

The session, titled "Croatia: Europeâs Gateway to the South East", took place from 5 to 7 April. Participants discussed a broad spectrum of topics, including tourism, transport and energy infrastructure, modernisation of the customs system, waging an effective fight against crime and corruption, judicial reform, the climate for regional investment, economic co-operation with the Arab world, and battling bird flu.

The choice of venue had great symbolic significance. Croatia, a country once enmeshed in the Balkan conflicts, is now in membership negotiations with the EU. The time has come to do everything needed for Croatia to complete its road to accession, Crans Montana founder Jean-Paul Carteron told reporters.

Addressing the forum, Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said his country would be active in promoting the Central Europe Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) and the Southeast Europe Co-operation Process (SEECP), with an eye to fostering the EU accession of all the countries in the region. Despite the current debates within the bloc about absorption capacity and "enlargement fatigue", this part of Europe must not be forgotten, Sanader said.

Also representing Croatia at the forum was Foreign Affairs and European Integration Minister Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who spoke about the benefits already being seen from enlargement, in terms of enhanced stability and prosperity. It is vital for the process to continue, and for the EU to keep its promises, she said.

Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic commended Croatia for demonstrating that progress towards EU membership depends on fulfilment of the set criteria, rather than on a country's size. The latest wave of EU expansion has encouraged and stimulated countries of the region to speed up the adoption of joint European values, he said, adding that Serbia and Montenegro will also demonstrate their capability for doing so.

Montenegrins will be going to the polls on 21 May to decide whether their republic will become independent or remain part of a loose union with Serbia, and Djukanovic -- a longtime advocate of independence -- is confident about the outcome. With statehood, Montenegro will be poised to enhance ties with its neighbours, while the democratic referendum will provide a positive example for the region, he said.

The process of EU integration cannot serve as a global historical precedent if a black hole is left on the map of Europe, warned the prime minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Adnan Terzic. Citing the results of a public opinion survey, which found that some 80 per cent of BiH citizens support joining the EU, Terzic stressed that the political representatives of all three constituent peoples, as well as all the main political forces in the country, agree that EU integration is key to the long-term stabilisation of BiH. Now is the time for Southeast Europe to join the EU, Terzic concluded.

Macedonia, which officially became an EU candidate country at the end of 2005, was represented at the Zagreb forum by Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski and Deputy Prime Ministers Radmila Sekerinska and Musa Xhaferi. Candidate status "was not a gift", Sekerinska said. "Macedonia deserved it ⦠and now as a candidate we have new tasks," she added, emphasising the importance of quickly implementing reforms.

The Crans Montana forum amounted to a powerful message of support for the EU hopes of Balkan countries -- a message which was given added strength by the presence of key EU and international figures. Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, whose country is the current holder of the six-month rotating European Council presidency, was at the event, as was the chairwoman of the European Parliament's delegation to Southeastern Europe, Doris Pack.

The future of Southeast Europe lies in the EU, Schuessel said in his address to the forum, stressing that a European perspective does much to fuel reforms and unite democratic forces in pursuit of a shared goal. Pack echoed those sentiments, and added that Croatia's membership could be expected to galvanise other countries into meeting the membership criteria.

In all, more than 400 people assembled in Zagreb for the Crans Montana session. Besides heads of state and members of governments, they included diplomats, representatives of international organisations and businesspeople from some 35 countries. Next month, Crans Montana will again be holding an event in Southeast Europe, with a "high-level experts' forum" scheduled to take place in Tirana on 12 and 13 May.