EU virtual summit in Zagreb: What European declarations and summits have brought to the Balkans

Zagreb’s gathering of regions and European leaders closes a two-decade cycle marked by three summits and three declarations of questionable effect.

It was supposed to be the “cherry on the icing” of the historic, first Croatian presidency of the European Union, the crowning reason why even the Zagreb National Library was turned into a convention center.

LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP via Getty Images

Presidents of Kosovo and Serbia, Hashim Thaci (left) and Aleksandar Vucic (right) meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Sofia to meet face-to-face, at the Zagreb summit they will talk via webcam

Of all, the Summit of the European Union (EU) and the Western Balkans will take place via video-conferencing, and the final joint document could look completely different compared to Croatia’s grand plans.

“Everything in Zagreb is colored with two strong colors: the internal crisis of the European Union and the pandemic of the Crown virus – I believe we will hear a strong and important message from the EU that it is ready to support us in coming out of the crisis caused by the pandemic.

I also hope that what has already been prepared for this meeting, which is an additional investment contribution to previously started projects, will soon be returned to the table – now we are talking about the end of the year as a possible time, and we need these funds, especially for infrastructure projects, “former Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Goran Svilanovic tells the BBC in Serbia.


The building of the National and University Library in Zagreb is decorated with the logo of the Croatian Presidency

He added that Croatia’s EU presidency has some bright spots.

“In very difficult circumstances, Croatia led this presidency, the first for Zagreb.

They can note as their success that they were able to gather all the relevant factors to open negotiations with Northern Macedonia and Albania. ”

Svilanovic participated in all three previous EU-Western Balkans summits – in Zagreb in 2000, in Thessaloniki in 2003 and in Sofia in 2018.

The BBC in English reminds you of all three final declarations of these diplomatic gatherings.

Summit in Zagreb – 2000

The November meeting in the Croatian capital almost gave rise to euphoria over developments in the Balkans.

At the beginning of that year, Croatia chose to take a different path from the one led by the late Franjo Tudjman, in what he called the EU “democratic change”.

The changes in Serbia and the defeat of Slobodan Milosevic in the elections on September 24th and the October 5th demonstrations brought to Zagreb a table of a long-awaited member – a representative of the FR Yugoslavia.

“The first Zagreb summit came after the changes and everyone noticed it, and they spoke with great enthusiasm what it meant for both Yugoslavia and the region,” says Svilanovic, who was then head of Yugoslav diplomacy.

Getty Images

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica (second row) was an important guest in the company of European Commission President Roman Prodi (left), French President Javier Chirac (center) and Croatian President Stjepan Mesic (right)

There are four key points in the Declaration that have been adopted with great enthusiasm:

The democratic changes that have taken place in Croatia and Yugoslavia are welcomed;
These changes are said to pave the way for regional cooperation and reconciliation;
Encourages regional leaders to initiate processes of cooperation at all levels, emphasizing that European integration will flow in parallel with regional initiatives;
It is now claimed that there is now an open way to successfully implement the Stabilization and Association process for all countries.

And while with much enthusiasm a short-term map of the European road for all countries was drawn at the end of the document, the key event will follow three years later.

Thessaloniki Summit – 2003

A June meeting in a Greek port brought the previously unprecedented support to the Western Balkans from Brussels to move towards EU membership.

It is difficult to dispute the claim that there is no more optimistic document from Europe to the Western Balkans than the Thessaloniki Declaration.

“Thessaloniki is the most important reference that has been used in recent years because it has been said many times – that the European Union will not be completed until all of its members are members of it,” says Goran Svilanovic, then Serbian and Montenegrin foreign minister. Upstairs.

Yet, looking at the effects, not much has been realized from the great optimism in the last seventeen years.

“It is not a false declaration – it is the most we have at the moment.

If our countries were to give up, there are definitely some who would take that document aside, “Svilanovic notes.

GERARD CERLES/AFP via Getty Images

European and Balkan leaders in Thessaloniki met in the idyllic atmosphere of Porto Karas

The Thessaloniki Declaration announced that EU-Western Balkans dialogue would be held regularly and that the following points were crucial:

It emphasizes that the EU and the Western Balkans share the values ​​of democracy, the rule of law, respect for human and minority rights, solidarity, a market economy;
The EU reiterates its unanimous support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans, stating: the future of the Western Balkans lies in the European Union;
The Western Balkan countries are focused on implementing the Thessaloniki Agenda – a draft Eurointegration Plan;
The importance of the Stabilization and Association Process is reiterated;
The implementation of United Nations Resolution 1244 and the “standards before status” policies in Kosovo, the respect for the Dayton Agreement on the Interruption of the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for The Hague are supported.
The importance of addressing organized crime and corruption is underlined;
The EU recognizes the importance of visa liberalization for the Western Balkan countries;
Economic reforms in the countries of the region are supported;
It recalls the importance of regional co-operation among the Western Balkan countries.

From the Thessaloniki Summit to the next gathering, only Croatia has become a member of the European Union – other countries are more or less far removed from membership.

The issue of Kosovo is still not fully resolved, although the policy of “standards before status” has been abandoned, while the complicated internal arrangement of BiH determines the pace of decision-making in this country.

Organized crime and corruption have now become key topics in European integration and are based on much of the Brussels criteria.

Visa-free travel is one of the greatest benefits of the accession felt by the citizens of the Western Balkans – except for the citizens of Kosovo, who are still awaiting this decision of the European Union.

Sofia Summit – 2018

With high expectations, 15 years were counted until the next big meeting between the Western Balkans and the EU.

Bulgaria’s first presidency of the Union was an opportunity to see how far the Thessaloniki hints came.

The fifteen years that have passed have been very turbulent in the Balkans as well as in Europe – the World Economic Crisis has plagued Brussels, the draft EU Constitution has failed, and the only new member from the Balkans has been Croatia.



Key European figures in Sofia were French President Emanuel Macron, then Prime Minister Theresa May (center) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right)

Goran Svilanovic was then Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council, involved in organizing the Sofia Summit.

“In the course of the preparations, some EU members have made it clear that they do not want to talk about joining, but that they will talk about connection.

I do not think that this summit was unsuccessful, though we did in some way remain between the European Commission and the Member States represented in the European Council – the result of this is the setting aside of a document that also states a key year for the future of integration – 2025. ”

Still, Svilanovic states that some positive things from Sofia remained as a good basis for regulating relations between the European Union and the Western Balkans.

“It is important to note that EU funds remain open, that the European Commission continues to work with full financial support, and that all commissioners will be given the task of analyzing which of the EU Member States’ programs may be open to candidates.”

The Sofia Declaration is a far longer text than the previous two, with key points stating:

EU welcomes the joint commitment of partners from the Western Balkans to European values ​​and principles;
Recalling the Thessaloniki Summit of 2003, the EU reaffirms unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans;
In principle, the EU wishes to support reforms in the region;
Welcomes the commitment of the Western Balkan countries to democracy and the rule of law, in particular with regard to the fight against corruption and organized crime, good governance, and respect for human rights and the rights of persons belonging to minorities;
Countries are being supported in building good neighborly regional relations.

The Declaration also outlines the importance of connectivity, the digital economy, the environment, energy security, youth opportunities, security challenges, halting illegal migration flows, combating terrorism and radicalism, corruption and organized crime, common foreign and security policies, cyber security.

Medija Centar Beograd

Even after his ministerial career, Goran Svilanovic remained a good connoisseur of relations in the Western Balkans

For Goran Svilanovic, the events of the past two years, with the additional impact of the crisis due to the pandemic of the coronary virus, have shaped the relationship between Brussels and the Balkans in a slightly different way.

“The accession process remains open, but at this moment there is no willingness to accelerate it, so the conditioning is softer and the language gentler.

Had the accession been closer, the language would have been stricter and the criteria stricter – hence the text of the Zagreb declaration would have been clearer if there were clear dates for enlargement, “Svilanovic concludes.

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