Serbia: EU debt crisis must not hurt Balkan entry hopes

Serbia: EU debt crisis must not hurt Balkan entry hopes
# 30 May 2010 03:17 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Serbia’s president on Saturday warned the financial crisis gripping Europe must not be allowed to derail the Balkans’ hopes of joining the European Union, ahead of a crunch summit with the bloc, APA reports quoting news, website.
"The policy of the European Union’s enlargement must not be interrupted at any price," President Boris Tadic told a conference of regional leaders, held in Sarajevo ahead of a vital EU-Balkans summit on June 2.
"The meeting comes as the European Union is facing a kind of enlargement fatigue, which is a consequence of the financial crisis," said Tadic.
The Serbian president called on fellow Balkans leaders to send a "clear message" to Europeans that stopping the expansion would be "a huge mistake," that would do "inexcusable and irreparable damage to the European Union."
Tadic was meeting with Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic and their colleagues from the Bosnian tripartite presidency, namely Muslim leader Haris Silajdzic.
Officials and media across the Balkans have expressed concern that the ongoing debt crisis could slow down the enlargement process, with new members perceived as a potential threat to the bloc’s financial stability.
But Tadic insisted "the crisis, which is currently affecting everyone... is not happening because of the enlargement of the EU."
Citizens of the Western Balkans "should not suffer the consequences of this crisis," he said.
At the end of the meeting the Balkans leaders signed a joint declaration urging Europe to "recognise the importance of the acceleration" of EU enlargement.
The leaders were meeting to pledge better relations with each other, as they each seek membership of the 27-member European bloc.
Croatia is the closest to EU membership out of the Western Balkan states, hoping to join by 2012. All other countries in the region have expressed the wish to join the EU, but are still at the beginning of the process.
The Saturday meeting was organised by the Igman Initiative, a regional network of non-governmental organisations aimed at promoting reconciliation in the Balkans following the bloody wars of the 1990s.
The EU insists that all countries of the Western Balkans must develop good relations with their neighbours if they want to join the bloc.
The European Commission representative in Sarajevo, Dimitris Kourkoulas, told the leaders that "the EU stands by its commitment to a European future of Western Balkans."
But he stressed the Western Balkans still had much to do to promote
cooperation, from "the development of infrastructure to building of the rule of law, through the fight against corruption and organised crime."
In a gesture of reconciliation, Josipovic was to go on Sunday to Republika Srpska, the Serb-run part of Bosnia, to pay tribute to Serb, Croat and Muslim victims of the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. He will be the first Croatian leader to visit the Bosnian Serb entity since the war.
Tadic also said he would in July attend a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces.
"The Europeanisation of the Western Balkan countries is irreversible," said Zivorad Kovacevic, an official of the Igman Initiative.
The network was created in 2000 by NGOs from Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia, signatories of the 1995 Dayton accord that ended the Bosnian war. Montenegro, which split from a union with Serbia in 2006, joined a few years ago.