Conference on Regional Co-operation Challenges 2006/2007
From the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe
to the Regional Co-operation Council
Zagreb, September 8, 2006
Speech of Special Co-ordinator Erhard Busek
I would like to thank the Croatian Government and the South East Europe Association for jointly organising this conference here today. We are at a very important junction both in South Eastern Europe and in the development of the Stability Pact. Possibilities to openly discuss these developments and the path ahead are thus very welcome and I encourage all of you to use tomorrow's discussions for a very open exchange.
The wide-ranging and high-level participation in the conference is also a sign that the importance of regional co-operation is better understood today than it was a few years ago. Many of the problems South Eastern Europe is facing can only be addressed on a regional basis – attracting foreign investment and fighting organised crime are good examples of this.
Furthermore, regional co-operation should not be mistaken for a substitute for EU integration. Since regional co-operation is the basis the EU itself is built upon, it is also a condition for the further integration of South Eastern Europe into the EU. These two processes – Enhancing Regional Co-operation and EU Integration – go hand in hand and the progress made in the past years in enhancing regional co-operation is thus also a concrete step towards fulfilling one of the conditions for EU membership, good neighbourly relations. You do not leave your neighbours behind when joining the EU and I certainly look forward to having Bulgaria and Romania join the EU soon and Croatia moving ahead in its negotiations. They will have an important role to play as an advocate for the region in this process.
In order to further promote these processes, the Regional Table in Belgrade in May took far-reaching decisions on the establishment of a Regional Co-operation Council to take over the tasks of the Stability Pact as the forum for regional co-operation in South Eastern Europe. These decisions have been made not only possible but necessary due to the very positive developments in SEE over the past 7 years. The region is much more mature today and therefore can – and must – take greater ownership of its own affairs.
This phased evolution of the Stability Pact into a regionally owned Regional Co-operation Council should not be interpreted as the international community withdrawing its support. Many of our international partners have assured us that they will stay engaged, but want to see the countries of the region gradually taking more ownership of the process – politically, financially and also personnel-wise.
The timelines for the implementation of these decisions which we have taken together at the last Regional Table are tight – by mid 2008 the Stability Pact is to phase out and the new RCC to take over. The responsibility for implementation is a shared one between the countries of the region, the international donor community and the Stability Pact Secretariat.
From the side of South Eastern Europe, it is in particular the SEECP – which considers itself the voice of the region – and Croatia as its Chairmanship, which needs to take a leading role in this process. But I have to say, that up to now – three months after we have taken these decisions together – I have seen very little movement coming from the region.
In order to make this transition real and feasible, a number of additional decisions need to be taken as soon as possible.
First of all, the SEECP needs to define its relationship with the RCC. The Regional Table has taken decisions on the future of the Pact and has suggested that the newly established RCC should have a close relationship with the SEECP. But the ultimate decision, of course, lies with the SEECP itself. A decision on this matter is crucial in order to define the exact membership of the RCC since the membership of the SEECP and the target countries of the Stability Pact are not identical.
Secondly, the financing of the new RCC and its secretariat needs to be determined. We are already working with the European Commission and the donor community to secure the international share of the financial costs. But the South East European countries need to come to an agreement among themselves on how they wish to divide their share of the costs – the Croatian SEECP Chairmanship has a logical leadership role in this question, which it needs to live up to. This is a question, which affords no further delays!
Thirdly, a detailed mandate and legal basis for the RCC needs to be defined. This is of particular importance to establish the RCC on firm legal grounds and to allow financial means to be made available – we are all accountable to our taxpayers and need to prove that the funds are spent appropriately.
And finally, based on the priorities for regional co-operation agreed at the last Regional Table, the portfolio of the RCC needs to be refined further – we at the Stability Pact are working on this and will be able to present a defined streamlining strategy for the respective task forces at the Working Tables and the Regional Table in November.
Only when these fundamentals are addressed – and they need to be addressed soon – should we start talking about personnel questions such as candidates for the Secretary General as well as the location of the Secretariat and an eventual Liaison Office.
I think it is in all our interests to ensure the sustainability of the co-operation processes initiated within the Pact and thus safeguard its legacy. There are two pre-conditions for this to be successful: enhanced regional ownership and continued international support in the transition phase. This is the outline for our discussions tomorrow: How can we ensure a Regional Co-operation Council which allows for continued international involvement and support while enhancing regional ownership?
In conclusion, the times when an initiative such as the Stability Pact could be established and driven mainly by the international community and imposed on the region are over. We are of course keen to ensure the sustainability of the co-operation processes initiated within the Pact. We can make proposals on how this can be achieved in the future, but the responsibility lies with the South East European Governments and it is you who must take the decisions.