The prime ministers of Western Balkan countries gathered yesterday in Sarajevo at the Summit hosted by the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Denis Zvizdić, to discuss common regional projects. The aim of the meeting was to bring the Western Balkans closer to the European Union, and to talk about projects related to transport and energy infrastructure. Participants of the meeting were the prime ministers of Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Albania; Aleksandar Vučić, Duško Marković, Emil Dimitrev, Isa Mustafa i Edi Rama, respectively, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Johannes Hahn and the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Angelino Alfano.
In July, Italy is hosting a Western Balkans summit in Trieste. In his opening remarks, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers said that he was pleased that the capital of his country, lively Sarajevo, hosted such an important meeting. Zvizdić stressed that from the perspective of BiH, the European integration process was very successful this past year.
"BiH is undertaking significant efforts to improve its legislation, administration, and other capacities, in order to tackle organized crime, especially terrorism and radicalization, as well as other security challenges that affect not only my country but also other countries in the region and in the EU," said Zvizdić.
He indicated that the implementation of reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been positively assessed by the European Commission for 2016. In addition, he said, during the recent visit of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, the EU sent a message of encouragement to the Council Ministers, which shows a clear aim at achieving results.
"This success comes after hard work from leaders of all levels, demonstrating our commitment to reforms. The mentioned achievements represent an additional incentive for BiH institutions to continue reforms that are badly needed to transform the state and society. Implementation of the Reform Agenda remains the highest priority of the BiH government, and a necessary precondition for attracting foreign investment. In addition, Bosnia and Herzegovina is determined to continue taking proactive and constructive policy measures regarding the development of regional cooperation. Today's meeting clearly confirms this commitment," the chairman of the Council of Ministers said.
After meeting the Western Balkan prime ministers, the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, called this meeting a symbolic act, pointing out that the gathering is an indication of progress.
"Citizens are often suspicious of whether progress exists, and I know that while problems are undoubtedly present, in the long run, these actions are an indication of further improvement and development of the region," Hahn said.
He agreed with Chairman Zvizdić, who said yesterday that the focus was on the economic development of the region.
"Certain prime minister spoke about the possibility of strengthening the single market in the region, removing existing barriers and facilitate a better flow of goods and services," he explained, adding that, "if we look at some short-term and long-term effects, there is a possibility to create 80,000 new jobs in the region."
At a press conference in Sarajevo, the European Commissioner reiterated and emphasized its strong contribution in terms of further integration and stressed the seriousness of the EU when it comes to the further integration of all countries in the region.
Zvizdić said that at yesterday's summit he could hear the desire to create a single market in the Western Balkans, a faster flow of goods, people and capital, the removal of tariffs and other barriers, the forming of associations and chambers of commerce, and other ideas that could help the economic development of the Western Balkan countries and the creation of a market of more than 20 million people.
"This is a good message for the European Union and for the region. We have shown that we can hold productive dialogue," said Zvizdić.
Although it was announced that all prime ministers - participants at the Summit - would address the journalists present, only Zvizdić and Hahn did.
However, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić said after the press conference that while he cannot answer whether he believes in the stability of the region because of all its problems, but that he will do his best, make every effort, and invest all the time in the world to achieve stability and peace in the region. He also announced that he will work to intensify talks between Serbs and Bosniaks, because he believes that it of crucial importance for both countries, stressing that every conversation is effective and beneficial.
He explained that yesterday was full of good discussions, especially because, he says, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia had almost identical proposals.
"It's always a good when there is dialogue. I paid attention and saw that Serbia and BiH had nearly identical proposals. We agreed almost on everything today in front of EU representatives. This is very important for our two countries because of the possibility of forming a single or common market in the future, as well as for joint infrastructure projects. I think we've made an important step forward. We did not even mention the past or what had just happened, which only shows how much we want to talk, think, and act seriously and responsibly," said Vučić.
He pointed out that there were also talks about the problems between the countries.
"You can't avoid problems. Avoiding problems would equate shoving our heads in the sand like ostriches. The problems are obvious, yet it seems to me that I might have been the most outspoken one when it came to our obvious problems. However it may be, it is good that we understand what it is that we can do, and what it is that we cannot do," said Vučić.
Asked by reporters whether there was a discussion with the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Isa Mustafa, during the dinner in Sarajevo, Vučić said that he only asked him "whether he thought of it himself, or whether someone had helped him," referring to the decision on the transfer of ownership of immovable Serbian property on the territory of Kosovo on behalf of Kosovo as the owner of that property.
"I've referred to five things today, but it is not fair, he's not here to be able to respond. If you ask me whether there were incidents, no, there weren't any. It is decent and normal that you say something and ask a question. Once again, I am very grateful to all of you for your hospitality," Vučić said.
The six prime ministers of the Western Balkans after yesterday's meeting adopted a joint statement that they have chosen to continue regional cooperation, work on joint infrastructure projects and on European integration. Among other things, they stated that they remain fully committed to the EU accession perspective, "in which lies our common free and prosperous future."
At the end of the Summit yesterday, Zvizdić and Hahn handed over diplomas to five participants in a regional exchange program for civil servants. The European Commission and six Balkan countries have agreed to implement the EU program for young civil servants from the Western Balkans, with the help of the British Council.
Part of the European Union
After congratulating the young civil servants, Zvizdić said that they represent the future of the Western Balkans.
"Young people are the ones who will take over all management processes very quickly, but until then, we all hope that we will become a full member of the EU, so that you can engage within the family of modern European countries," said Zvizdić.
Hahn also congratulated the participants of the program, saying that he believes that this is an important initiative for them, to have the opportunity as young civil servants to be trained and educated in the countries of the region, but also in one of the EU members (France).
"We need you, and this will pay off in one way or another. I would not rule out the possibility that in a few years one of you becomes the EU Commissioner like me, but I hope that in the near future you will stay within your public administrations, because it is a service to your countries and your peoples," Hahn told the program's participants.
Diplomas were awarded to Aleksandar Simić, Aleksandra Davitkovska, Andrijana Ćanović, Dodona Gaši, and Örjan Mulisa.
"Since the beginning of the program we have been very grateful to have the opportunity to be part of an experience that will change our lives. This initiative has helped strengthen regional cooperation and the creation of a strong network of young professionals in the Western Balkans. Now that we have become friends, we are more sure than ever that, no matter how many things set us apart, one thing we certainly have in common - we all want to be part of the EU," Davitkovska said.