Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission
The road to Europe
Skopje, 21 February 2003
Mr Speaker, Honourable Members,
It gives me great pleasure to be here in Skopje and I thank you warmly for the opportunity to address you.
This is my first visit to this country, whose long and rich history I know well. A history that recently saw a new and hopeful development -- the Framework Agreement signed in Ohrid in August 2001.
That Agreement showed that this country has turned its back courageously on inter-ethnic confrontation, extremism and nationalism.
The Agreement is a promise of reconciliation and stability. It is also a striking example of how compromises can be forged for the common good. A difficult task, but a rewarding one too.
By embarking on the road to reconciliation and reconstruction, you have shown your willingness to build a future as a member of our European family.
This country has started to put its promises into practice. Now it needs step up the pace of reform.
Today political life has returned to normal as the September elections show. This should allow the country to move forward. I am confident that all political stakeholders will do their utmost to meet the people's expectations.
At all stages of the crisis, the European Union made good its pledge to help stabilise the country. Tomorrow it will confirm that pledge by taking over the NATO mission. This will help to ensure the security conditions are there for the ongoing reform process.
Two years ago your country was the first to sign a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union. That was a first step along the road to full membership of the Union.
Under the Agreement you undertook to apply a set of principles. These include upholding human rights, establishing a democratic system based on the rule and observance of law, introducing a market economy and combating organised crime and unlawful trafficking.
That Agreement is a major commitment by this country, its institutions -- particularly the government and Parliament -- and its people. I am glad you confirmed your desire to join the European family of nations at the last elections -- and that all political parties shared this aim.
So it is for all of you to meet that commitment. And it is for all political players to stand by and support that commitment.
At the same time you have real prospects of joining the European Union. In late January the Council held a keynote debate on the development of relations with the Balkans. The Ministers gave a strong and clear signal. They said the Balkans are an integral part of Europe and the unification of our continent will be complete only when the Balkan countries are members of the Union.
The aim of EU policy is the gradual integration of the Balkans into Europe, as was formally confirmed at Zagreb in November 2000. The guiding principle is simple and compelling. European integration is a shared political goal.
It calls for the countries in the area to join the Union. And the Union undertakes to support and sustain the process by encouraging political, social and economic reform in these countries.
From the outset, in fact the idea behind European integration has always been to encourage the institutions of the participating States to embrace shared values -- freedom, security, justice and democracy -- and apply them in their policies.
Let me stress that one crucial political objective for the European Union is to maintain a regional reference framework to support the process.
Because the countries in the region are interdependent in so many ways and their destinies are closely tied up with each other's.
Maintaining this regional framework is the key to preventing the new borders from becoming new walls or fomenting new tensions. And here I am thinking in particular of the countries that once formed part of Yugoslavia.
European integration is the way to overcome certain attitudes and standpoints Europe has inherited from centuries of history. Such as the assumption that one's State must coincide with the country one lives in, the society one feels at home in and the nation one feels loyal to.
In Europe we are citizens both of our own States and of the Union. We enjoy certain rights as individuals -- not as members of a particular ethnic, religious, linguistic or historical group -- while organised civil society enjoys certain privileges across the whole European Union.
In the Union things are agreed in common, not decided unilaterally. The Union's Member States and peoples have sought to understand how others think before putting their own views. The Community spirit implies a concern to understand the reasons behind the viewpoints of others and a determination to work together in the general interest.
Above all the European Community has allowed us to rise above the belief that peace can be achieved by altering borders, changing the lines on the map and shunting people around. We have seen too many wars and conflicts to go on believing that peace and prosperity can only be safeguarded if the borders of every nation coincide with those of a State.
In a united Europe it matters less which side of the border you live on. Integration encourages the free movement of people and ideas and fosters dialogue and exchanges of views.
The overcoming of age-old divisions is the driving force behind the European integration process. In a Europe that once lay in ruins, reconciliation between longstanding rivals has cemented European unity.
That is the approach we propose to follow now here in the Balkans, where a sustainable level of democratic, political and economic development can only be achieved by a regional approach. There are clear synergies and joint action we must encourage in south-eastern Europe.
Only a wider regional cooperation approach can resolve the ongoing tensions, offer viable prospects for economic development and trade, and provide the instruments to tackle regional problems such as smuggling, illegal immigration and organised crime.
This regional framework does not mean Europe will open the door only when all the countries are ready. Each country will be assessed on the progress it has made, its compliance with the political criteria laid down at Copenhagen, and its capacity to assimilate Community law and apply it properly.
Passing new legislation is not enough. There is no point in adopting new legislation unless it is actually implemented.
So I urge you to be resolute as you set out on the path of reform.
Be confident as you look towards that future. You must lay the foundations now. And that future will draw closer with every step you take along the path of reform. So you need determination and commitment as you implement the programme of reforms we have drawn up jointly. We will show the same determination in implementing our common agenda.
Let me be clear on this point. It is not a question of "you and us" or "you versus us". Today the integration of all the countries in the region is a joint endeavour, a matter of common interest for Europe as a whole. And we must implement our common agenda coherently and with resolve.
Deep down the European Union is a community of shared values. At their core are respect for human and minority rights and the rule and observance of law. And that calls for an independent, impartial judiciary, accountable and impartial policing, transparent, open decision-making, and the right to redress.
Any country that aspires to join the Union must uphold these values.
People must have confidence in the State. Confident the State can and will respond effectively when you hit problems.
I believe the people and institutions of this country will meet this challenge successfully and will bring it up to EU standards. You will need to show commitment, determination, patience and realism. And Europe will be at your side, with help, support, advice and encouragement.
The key words in this process are responsibility and ownership.
Responsibility because this Parliament can and must play a central role along the way.
Responsibility for transforming this country into a functioning democracy. Responsibilty for developing a constructive attitude towards the great issues of European integration. And responsibility for identifying areas of real national interest.
The other word is ownership -- ownership because the decisions lie in your hands. The decisions on the timetable and the every step that will mark your progress towards integration.
As I said, the Union will be at your side and our dialogue must pave the way for developing a closer, more transparent and more reliable partnership.
All the other countries shortly to become full members of the Union have travelled down this road. There are no short cuts.
For our part, in the months to come we will try to make the best possible use of the instruments that exist to back up the process of stabilisation and association. If necessary we will fine-tune these instruments to make them more effective and responsive to the needs identified in the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
I am confident your efforts will meet with success. A success we will share in too. Because the Union's principles and values will have taken root in this region and we will have helped in the process. Your full participation in the European integration project will be a major contribution to the consensual and peaceful unification of the whole continent.
As Members of this Parliament, most of you elected for the first time, you represent the new face of this land.
I am confident you will put your shoulders behind your country's efforts to integrate into Europe.
Together, with time, we will transform our Association process into membership.
Together we will do our utmost to make that dream a reality.
We owe it to the people in this country.