"I've seen more than ever before, and came back concerned"

The Balkans can easily become one of the chessboards where the big power game can be played, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Monday.

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Monday, 06.03.2017.

11:11

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"I've seen more than ever before, and came back concerned"

"I have seen in the Western Balkans in these days much more than ever before: a region exposed to different layers of challenges and tensions. Some internal, domestic politics dynamics that create tensions in some countries; some regional inter-ethnic tensions or between or among countries that are extremely dangerous because they could bring the region back a few years. Peace is never to be given for granted," she said, and added:

"And also I have seen a region exposed to some global tensions. The Balkans can easily become one of the chessboards where the big power game can be played. So the concern is there, also because this is happening just after a very good year for the Balkans. There is not one single of the six of the Western Balkans that has not done enormous progress last year on its European integration path - well, maybe one or two - but the general sense of direction last year was excellent, evident, uncontroversial and the result of a common determination both here, in Brussels, by the EU institutions, by the member states and from the countries in the region."

According to Mogherini, "the concern is there and is profound - but there is also the confidence that derives from the fact that there is no other power in the world that has so much impact for good on the Western Balkans, and that is the European Union."

"I shared with the ministers and they agreed with me on the assessment that the power of the European Union in the region is linked to the credibility of the EU integration process; and this is why I believe you will see also in the coming days in the European Council strong determination from member states to give a stronger credibility to this path," she said.

The EU official said that she came back from her Balkans tour "worried in some cases, but also full of optimism and hope."

"Whenever you meet the students, the citizens, civil society, but also so many political and social forces in all the region, you see the enormous support and trust in the European Union. You see the desire to enter the Union and I have repeatedly said in the region - and I repeated to the ministers today - while we reflect on the future of the European Union, we can be sure that it will not be at 27; because there is an energy, a pro-European energy, in the Western Balkans that just waits to be let in," she added.

"And I think we have, and the ministers confirmed that today, full interest in making this process credible, fast, consistent. This requires also a lot of work in the Western Balkans, but also on our side. So I am worried, but also we have all the tools to overcome difficulties and to offer to the people of the Western Balkans the future and the perspective they want: just peace, economic development, regional cooperation and I could continue," Mogherini said.

Asked "what citizens of the region will be able to feel and to see" regarding the concrete EU nion engagement there "in the next few days, months," and, if there was "something we can expect from Serbia to do concretely in this way for all the region to go forward," she replied:

"The concrete results depend equally from the European Union and from the governments, the parliaments, the institutions of the countries in the region. Actually, they depend more on the institutions and countries of the region than from us. From us, what they can expect is a renewed engagement, a unitary commitment meaning all the 28 Member States strongly behind the messages I brought to the region. And this key message: the door is open, we want you to enter, you know what is the way to enter and this will transform societies and economic and social perspective of the countries. This means good regional cooperation, this means containing and avoiding rhetorics that can be dangerous, this means economic opportunities, trade opportunities, this means peace – again, it is not an irrelevant word in the region – and this is what the people of the Balkans can expect from us."

According to Mogherini, "a serious, consistent, committed approach that recognizes and acknowledges the steps done on the way to the European Union integration path and also supporting the countries and the people, especially the people in the countries."

"One of the things that were really positively striking to me during my visit was the enthusiasm of the young people, everywhere in the region, be it Erasmus students, be it those that are angry and frustrated because they do not get a job. All of them see the European Union as the key to solve the problems or the key to improve the situation. I think this is not only something we own to these generations in the Balkans, I think this is also something healthy for the European Union to bring this energy in. So this is what they can expect: commitment, unity, determination, even perseverance on our side and the rest will come. But, again, the institutions will have to do their part," she said.

Western Balkans is "tense"; EU must offer "credible support"

The situation in the Western Balkans is tense - and strong and credible support from the European Union is required, Federica Mogherini told reporters in Brussels earlier on Monday.

Ahead of a meeting of EU foreign and defense ministers, Mogherini said she would report about her tour of the Western Balkans last week, and also inform EU leaders about it on Thursday, and tell them that "the situation there is exposed to challenges domestically, regionally and globally."

"But it is a region that has in itself the capacity, the strength to react to that, to hold, provided that the credibility of the European integration process is there," she said, and added:

"So I expect from today, but also from the European Council later this week to express a strong and clear commitment to the Western Balkans, in terms of a credible European integration perspective."

It is expected that conclusions will be adopted today that will be the basis for a report on the Western Balkans, which leaders of the 28 member-states will adopt at their summit on March 9-10 in Brussels.

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