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Regional Funding Conference for South East Europe: Speech by the Rt Hon Christopher Patten, CH , EU Commissioner for External Relations

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SPEECH/00/106
Speech by the Rt Hon Christopher Patten, CH
EU Commissioner for External Relations
The Regional Funding Conference
Regional Funding Conference

Brussels, 29 March 2000

I am delighted, as one of the co-hosts, to welcome you to this Regional Funding Conference for South East Europe.

It is appropriate that the European Union should be co-hosting this conference. Not just because of the contribution we plan to make I shall come to that in a moment.

But because the European Union itself embodies one of history's more successful attempts to enable countries and peoples to overcome division, to shape a future based on partnership and co-operation, and where competition on a level playing field replaces conflict on the battle-field.

Fifty years ago, few thought that possible. Western Europe was rubble and ashes.

But, with generous support from our American friends, we proved it possible. We built a strong and stable community of democracies, whose economic wealth and political liberty helped it to stand firm in the face of tyranny.

When Communism collapsed in the early 1990s, we set about helping the countries of Central and Eastern Europe to build democracy and make the transition to the market economy with the same commitment and faith in their innate ability to succeed that the US devoted to re-building Western Europe after World War Two.

In just over ten years since the fall of the Berlin Wall these countries have been transformed and are well on the way to joining the EU.

Glad, confident morning.

War in Europe, we told ourselves proudly, could never happen again.

But it did.

We had not, after all, exorcised all the demons.

We have been wrestling with the consequences now for a decade, with varying degrees of success.

At the start of a new century, we are humbler, wiser, I hope but more determined than ever to turn the page in South East Europe, to work with the countries and peoples of the region not to escape their neighbourhood, but to transform it.

That is what the Stability Pact is about a recognition that the problems of the region have to be tackled in the round; a recognition that coping with crisis is far more costly in every sense than implementing a long-term strategy for peace.

We are starting to implement such a strategy by building, literally and metaphorically, South East Europe's road to integration with the rest of Europe, and with the Euro Atlantic community.

The European Union is rightly playing a leading role in this enterprise.

We have spent nearly €8 billion in reconstruction and humanitarian assistance to the region since 1991; and our Member States have spent about the same.

We have borne huge costs on top of that - maintaining a European military presence in the region for nearly a decade, meeting the cost of housing huge numbers of refugees.

Our belief in our common future means that we intend to keep up and to step up that effort.

The European Commission proposes to spend nearly €12 billion in rebuilding the region over the next six years on top of the money we're spending keeping our military deployed there, on top of the cost of our diplomatic missions, over and above the bilateral aid from our Member States.

That sum includes €6 billion a billion a year for Romania and Bulgaria as candidate countries; and we're requesting €5.5 billion subject of course to the approval of our budgetary authorities based on carefully worked out plans for Croatia, Bosnia, FYROM, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia.

Post-Milosevic Serbia, that is.

We're pencilling in a substantial sum for that our share of what we judge it would cost to transform Serbia, when Milosevic has gone, and bring her back into the European family.

But while Milosevic is in power, the serious money stays in the vault. We will continue to help the media, of course; we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance.

And we will continue to work with the democratic opposition, whom I am pleased to welcome here today as guests of the Stability Pact.

I am delighted too to welcome the official delegation of Montenegro.

Montenegro has chosen a different path to Serbia; we are determined to give the Montenegrin government and people every support.

When I was in Podgorica a fortnight ago, I announced three quick start infrastructure projects worth €5 million. Last week I decided to double the EU's assistance to Montenegro under the OBNOVA programme, bringing it to €20 million this year. The European Council in Lisbon asked the competent institutions to take without delay the necessary decisions to help alleviate the immediate financial needs of Montenegro, if necessary by resorting to the EU budgetary reserves, as well as macro-financial assistance.

I hope there will be further strong support for Montenegro from this conference.

Because Montenegro, unlike Serbia, but like the rest of this region, is starting to move forward.

Like Croatia, which has attracted great admiration by blazing a democratic trail for the whole region.

Like the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which has just started negotiations with the EU for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, the first country to do so.

Like Albania, which is persevering with political and economic reforms, and has just handed over a status report on its preparedness to enter negotiations for a Stabilisation and Association agreement.

Like Bosnia, where refugee return is accelerating.

Progress is now taking place not just at a national level, but, thanks to the Stability Pact, at a regional level too.

A regional investment compact. A regional anti-corruption initiative. Media reform. Agreements to upgrade the Blace border crossing, and to build a new bridge over the Danube between Bulgaria and Romania : all achievements under the aegis of the Stability Pact.

Real progress, much of it unimagineable just a year or two ago.

Today we take that process a step further.

This is not a classic donor conference where countries pass round the hat to the donor community. Later this morning you will hear a number of Ministers and representatives outline impressive reform programmes. These programmes will receive substantial financial support from the international community. From the EU they will receive the heavy duty financial backing I mentioned earlier. But what is new about this conference is its focus on the regional dimension. Today and tomorrow we are going to be matching projects which go beyond the usual national programmes and open various activities in the region to other neighbours, helping to foster a new dynamism and a spirit of working together.

This conference is about the immediate future; about making a real difference over the coming months. That's what really matters to people - not the abstract amounts of money promised for some unspecified time in the future, however imposing, but whether the road to the next town is actually being rebuilt, whether the bridge is being repaired, whether the electricity grid functions and the clean water comes out of the tap.

We hope to leave here with funding for a substantial package of 'Quick Start' projects, ready to begin now or in the next twelve months.

Projects to rebuild the hardware across the region bridges, roads, airports, water systems, electricity networks.

Projects to build the institutional software too, and again, across the region public administration, a free media, an independent judiciary, functioning, accountable institutions in which all sections of the community can place trust and confidence. This conference represents months of preparation, discussion and co-ordination between partners. That process has already produced results in terms of filtering lists of projects, speeding up plans for implementation. Today and tomorrow we have the opportunity to show the concrete results of this work.

I am pleased to announce this morning that the European Commission is willing to pledge €530 million for projects under the Quick Start package.

These projects will make a real difference, right across the region. I hope, in the case of reconstruction projects, we will be able to use local procurement to the maximum extent possible.

To succeed, however, these initiatives will need to be matched by commitment, imagination and enthusiasm of the countries in the region in implementing reform.

The message is simple and fair: the more you reform, the more we will be able to support you.

So I look forward to hearing today from the countries in as much detail as possible how they plan to build on the reforms they have already been carrying out in the last year.

That approach help inextricably linked to actual reforms lies at the heart of the EU's Stabilisation and Association process our flagship policy for the region. It will bring is already starting to bring - very substantial benefits to the region trade access, political dialogue, regional co-operation.

But we recognise the need to do more: to galvanise our efforts still further, and above all cut through some of the arcane procedures that slow the delivery of our aid.

At Lisbon last week, EU heads of government asked Secretary General/High Representative Solana and the Commission to take urgent steps to reinforce our efforts across the region, and to get a tighter grip.

They also asked us to work up proposals rapidly to expand trade access through assymetric trade measures to the European Union market. These will precede the Stabilisation and Association agreements.

Javier Solana and I will be working closely on these issues in the coming weeks; we will be putting our initial proposals to EU Foreign Ministers on 11 April.

A year on from the air strikes in Kosovo, we are starting to make headway.

Milosevic is still there, a brooding presence, holding Serbia in political darkness.

But spring is coming to the rest of South East Europe, and progress is taking root.

Let us then redouble our efforts.

Let us demonstrate in the next two days that we have the will and the wherewithal and the stamina to persevere in our efforts to transform the prospects for this region and to succeed.