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Friends of Europe: Balkan Balance Sheet - Antonio Milososki

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Published on Jul 1, 2008

http://www.friendsofeurope.org
http://www.eu4journalists.eu
Reverberations from the Irish "no" did not dampen enthusiasm for recent positive developments in the Balkans region. This was one of the outcomes of Friends of Europe's ninth annual Balkans summit, "A Balkans Balance Sheet", held in Brussels on 24 June. The summit brought together over 300 politicians, policymakers and pundits, as well as representatives from international organisations, civil society and the private sector. Participants discussed the health of the EU's Balkan enlargement strategy and whether the EU is exerting a calming influence on Balkan politics.

During the afternoon an economic roundtable debated the strength of the entrepreneurial culture in the region and the pace of economic development. The roundtable pooled the expertise of over 40 experts from across the EU and the Balkans region, including Martin Bartenstein, Austria's Economy Minister, Milo Djukanovic, Montenegro's Prime Minister, and Hido Biscevic, Secretary General of the Sarajevo-based Regional Cooperation Council.

Over the last six months the region has seen some recent positive developments, including the launch of the Regional Cooperation Council in February 2008 and the signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Bosnia-Herzegovina on 16 June, which paved the way for fully-fledged EU membership for the country. Yet bilateral and multilateral tensions across the region remain -- particularly over an independent Kosovo -- but several participants pointed to the positive development of Serbia's new government, which they expect to be more pro-EU.

Despite rumblings from the incoming EU French Presidency that in the wake of the Irish vote "difficulty will begin when the 28th member state knocks at the door", representatives from both international and EU institutions remained positive about the region's eventual integration into the regional bloc. An upbeat EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn assured countries of the Western Balkans that while the EU is considering how to pursue institutional reform, the European Commission is "working in parallel on the accession process" and that the enlargement process remains "on track".

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