“Unity in diversity” – an EU motto fit for the Balkans

7 December 2012

“Regional cooperation is very important. Brussels can lay the foundations and put in place structures, but the people of the region play the crucial role,” said Joost Korte, Deputy Director-General for Enlargement in the European Commission.

Korte said the European Commission was convinced that despite the climate of uncertainty surrounding the EU at the moment, enlargement remained a very real prospect whose ability to spread prosperity across Europe had been recognised by the EU’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize.

2012 had seen the granting of candidate status to Serbia and the start of accession negotiations with Montenegro, and there was now less than seven months to go before Croatia’s accession, so it had been a good year despite the crisis, the Commission official argued.

“The accession process is a lever for making important reforms that improve the lives of people in the region,” he said.

The Western Balkan region has shown a capacity for strategic planning but this is still in its early stages, said Jelica Minić, Deputy Secretary-General of the Regional Cooperation Council.

Cooperation between Western Balkan countries is not just economic. There is cultural cooperation (including a regional film fund), and cooperation on energy and justice and home affairs (JHA) issues. An R&D strategy is in the making, and trade liberalisation strategies are under continual development, Minić said.

Cooperation also exists in the fields of public health and transport, she said.

“I hope Serbia will be allowed to start EU accession negotiations very soon. It’s a priority of the Serbian government,” said career diplomat Duško Lopandić, who currently occupies the position of Assistant Minister for European Integration and Regional Integration at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Serbia.

He listed the normalisation of relations between administrations in this complex region of small, newly-independent countries among the main achievements of regional cooperation in the Balkans.

“All the interior ministers know each other, and the police and military chiefs meet regularly too. This network is one of the main achievements,” said Lopandić, who is co-author of ‘Regional initiatives and multilateral cooperation in the Balkans’ together with Jasminka Kronja.

Other achievements of regional cooperation include the EU accession process, and the opportunity for the countries of the region to define common ground for cooperation on issues of common good such as trade, energy and transport, he said.

“Many of the issues we’re talking about in the Balkans are also EU issues, for example, our competitiveness compared to the United States,” said Selma Prodanovic, CEO of Brainswork and president of IncredibEurope.

“How can we find unity in diversity, and harness that diversity as an asset?” she asked.

Europe is a continent of over 700 million people and more than 50 languages, but it needs to present itself as a single global player. Europe has some wonderful innovators, but they are spread all over the continent and are not really in a position to benefit Europe as a whole, Prodanovic said.

Prodanovic stressed the importance of taking a “creative Balkans” approach that could tap into the potential of the region’s people, boost cooperation, and “brand” the region, harnessing its diversity.