Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Ditmir Bushati, in the framework of his visit to Washington D.C., attended the conference: “A coming Storm: Shaping a Balkan future in the Balkans in an era of uncertainty”, organized by the Atlantic Council.
This conference engaged the highest levels of transatlantic decision-makers and brought together over 100 participants, ranging from regional leaders to decision-makers from both sides of the Atlantic, as well as top field experts, to focus on what it is at risk. It encouraged them to foster support for a renewed United States policy in the Balkans in partnership with the European Union.
Although the Western Balkans region has made significant progress in its efforts to integrate into the broader transatlantic community, inspired and led by the commitment to join the European Union, NATO and other global institutions, further progress is in danger. The conference aimed to generate ideas and new policy proposals to pave the way for the Balkans region, which is now firmly positioned within the transatlantic community.
Minister Bushati highlighted that “although we are speaking about the region, I can say that we are not yet a true region. All Western Balkan countries aspire to integrate into the EU, and have had a different path in this regard, 4 candidate countries at different levels. At the same time, even if we talk about Euro-Atlantic integration, it is difficult to talk about a real region, given that we have some member states (Albania, Croatia and Montenegro), but also countries like Kosovo which is desperately seeking an institutionalized relationship with NATO, countries like Serbia standing in another position, or even Bosnia, which in the last two years, is not advocating for NATO membership. The same applies to how Western Balkan countries face different challenges. Likewise, alignment of the foreign policy of the Western Balkans with that of the EU is not the same. That is why our first challenge is how to transform the Western Balkans into a truly political, economic and security area.
Another element emphasized by Minister Bushati as regards the European integration, is the need not to fall on the trap of chapters. “We have a situation in the region where you do not always find the correlation between the chapters and the speed or the quality of the accession process or the democratization cycle”,- Minister Bushati underlined. “In terms of challenges,- Minister Bushati said – no matter whether Montenegro has opened 28 chapters and Albania is about to sit on the accession negotiations’ table, we are more or less facing the same challenges such as: the rule of law, corruption and organized crime, ethnic tensions or the economic disparity. This is a wide gap not only between the Western Balkans and European Union, but also between the Western Balkans and the so-called newly members of the EU, placing neighboring countries in different positions”.
In this context, Minister Bushati underscored that “At least there would be three areas where I see the contribution of the United States and the coordination between United States of America on one hand and the European Union on the other hand, very important; in terms of security reforms, the rule of law in the economy and issues related to economic development, especially when our region, the European Union and the United States are facing the same challenges. Yesterday’s messages of U.S Secretary of State Tillerson – Minister Bushati voiced – are encouraging and we hope to have a strong cooperation within the framework of NATO but also within the European integration of the Western Balkan countries”.