Address by Minister Dacic at the Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the WB6

Address by First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic at the meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Western Balkans Six, in Skopje.

“I wish to thank Nikola Poposki for organizing this meeting, particularly bearing in mind that the “WB6” format – within the framework of the Berlin Process – has proved to be a very good informal forum for strengthening regional cooperation in the Western Balkans.

Regarding the first theme of our meeting – Prospects and potential results of the WB Summit in Trieste, the future of the “Berlin Process beyond 2018, best use of the WB6 potential, regional cooperation and representation in regional initiatives, I would like to recall that the “Berlin Process” is, at the same time, a “two-way street” reflecting cooperation between the WB and the EU in furthering specific cooperation in the interest of our European ambitions, particularly now that the enlargement policy is descending on the EU priority list.

Our expectations of the coming WB Summit in Trieste are realistic. An energized and positive approach demonstrated by Italy in the preparatory process assures us of the positive results.

Regarding the question as to whether the “Berlin Process” (BP) will have a future following 2018, our answer is absolutely yes. We believe that the future of BP needs to be discussed more extensively, within this format. Introduction of a semi-annual rotating chairmanship-in-office, in addition to holding regular WB6 meetings at the Foreign Minister level, at least bi-annually, could significantly enhance our efficiency in this format. Topics for discussion could focus on the Berlin Process, but on other issues as well.

As regards regional cooperation and representation in regional initiatives, I would like to make three points: it is necessary that we make an effort to ensure a balanced representation of all Participants. I take this opportunity to recall that Serbia has put in its bid for the seat of the Secretariat of the Transport Community, which can be understood and justified bearing in mind that, for more than 10 years, Belgrade has been host to the Headquarters of the South East Europe Transport Observatory, which will be “transformed” into the Transport Community. Belgrade is the most logical choice both in terms of logistics and capacities. Unless the region agrees on the seat, the issue will be decided by EU Member States and the seat will be outside the region. This will put to the test our maturity and readiness to act in the interest of our region.

I wish to express my satisfaction over the fact that the dynamic of the process of formal establishment of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) has been as planned. We expect that the procedure for the election of Secretary General will be a transparent one and completed shortly. May I recall that the Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia has been the initiator of and Serbia the major contributor to the RYCO Budget. Serbia’s leading role in RYCO is important, bearing in mind its overall engagement in this process and an interest in continuing to promote regional cooperation.

As regards economic prosperity, strengthening connectivity in transport, energy and trade, rule of law and fight against corruption, I must underline that the Government of the Republic of Serbia will continue to carry out accelerated reforms, honouring agreements aimed at intensifying our efforts towards more rapid connection, market opening and investor confidence building. I am convinced that the reforms will inevitably contribute to additional investment in projects whose implementation will benefit the region as a whole. I would like to bring up some arguments in support of this: according to the IMF assessment, the results achieved in the Serbian economy have exceeded all expectations, primarily as a result of the consolidation of public finances, improvement of structural measures and increase of trust on the part of investors; fiscal results for 2016 are significantly better than anticipated by the programme, predominantly because of tax revenue growth and strict controls on budgetary spending; real GDP in 2016 in comparison with the previous year, has grown by 2.7%; industrial output growth increased by 2.7% compared to the previous year’s average; export growth was higher than that of imports, while the previous year’s import – export ratio was the record high, almost 80%; last year’s foreign direct investments to Serbia amounted to 2 billion euro.

In the context of cooperation in the economic area, Serbia supports the strengthening of economic interconnectivity in the region, which will be discussed at the forthcoming WB Summits in Sarajevo and Trieste. I would further like to draw your attention to the following: we have also drawn up a comprehensive plan of activities during the Republic of Serbia’s CEFTA Chairmanship-in-Office, through the continuation of work aimed at trade facilitation, liberalization of trade in services, supported by mutual recognition of professional qualifications, enhancement of the system of full accumulation of origin between the region and its major trading partners, enhancing the dispute settlement system.

Serbia has also been undertaking significant measures within its anti-corruption efforts. The position of “zero tolerance” of corruption has been taken and efforts aimed at the implementation of the Anti-Corruption Strategy were continued. Chapter 23 Action Plan envisages broader jurisdiction of the Anti-Corruption Agency to be provided by amending the Agency Law. Public Procurement Promotion Strategy was adopted for 2014-2018, along with the Action Plan for its implementation, while opening of negotiating Chapter 5 (Public procurement) will further promote the efficacy and effectiveness of the said process.

The “Connectivity Agenda” is one of the key “pillars of the “Berlin Process”, i.e. mutual cooperation in the region, as well as cooperation with the EU. I wish to take this opportunity to reiterate that, regarding infrastructural projects, Serbia’s priorities continue to be: Nis-Merdare-Pristina-Tirana-Duress motorway; as well as reconstruction and modernization of the Nis-Dimitrovgrad railway. In respect of the implementation of the agreements reached at the Summit in Paris, within the framework of the WB6, the Republic of Serbia was assessed by the EC as the most successful in the implementation of soft measures, particularly those that depend on us. In this context, I would like to single out: opening of the railway market based on the pilot programme for corridor Orient /Eastern Mediterranean; defining the network for the implementation of EU freight corridors; implementation of agreements on the rail border crossing point between Serbia and Macedonia; a significant number of measures in the energy sector – within the framework of Spot market development, cross-border balancing and Cross-cutting, that have been fully implemented. Implementation of measures aimed at separating operators of distribution and transmission systems is underway and progressing well, we are also actively involved in the implementation of measures within the framework of the Sustainability Charter, and progress has been made in the energy efficiency area, and we are doing well in terms of renewable energy sources.

The recently signed Memorandum of Understanding between the Governments of Serbia and Bulgaria – in addition to the activities carried out so far, has been giving a fresh impetus to, and providing basis for, the implementation of the project on gas interconnection building, while activities related to Trans-Balkan corridor construction are underway.

When speaking of measures where, according to the EC assessment, relevant progress has been lacking, I would like to underline that these measures are not solely contingent on Serbia.

Serbia’s expectations of the coming WB6 Summit in Trieste are realistic. We are aware that the implementation of agreements reached at previous WB Summits is a process, rather than an act, and that progress can be made only through cooperation and consistent implementation of what has been agreed. Serbia stands ready to fully deliver on the agreed, while being open to discussions on introducing new areas, such as strengthening of regional economic integration and consolidation of cooperation in the environmental protection area. We have been encouraged by Italy’s agility and commitment.

On the other hand, taking stock of the exceptionally dynamic developments on the global and continental political scene where we have witnessed, last year, three developments of high importance, such as “Brexit”, attempted coup in Turkey, and a change of US Administration, a question arises as to what kind of an attitude we in the region should adopt in the context of our efforts to join the EU.

Enlargement has ever so rarely been referred to among the relevant EU policies, because of all the challenges facing the EU, i.e. perennial economic problems, migration crisis, increasing presence of terrorism and violent extremism, additionally strengthening populist positions in EU Member States and further diminishing the EU citizens trust of the EU institutions. This year will be fraught with additional challenges, including elections in the founding countries of the European Community – France, Germany, the Netherlands, whose results may have a bearing on the future of the EU. It is for the first time that we hear the EU being referred to as going through an existential crisis.

Serbia is open to the process of reconciliation, which requires mutual respect and agreement, rather than unilateral steps. It is committed to European Union membership although the reality is that the timing of its EU accession is contingent on the political decision and consensus of all EU Member States. Apparently, the criteria are becoming increasingly demanding, members are turning into a moving target while the pace at which the process will unfold during the on-going EU reform period is unknown. It is not only Serbia that is facing the unknowns, but the European Union and the entire world too. The EU is aware that its stability and security are dependent on the stability of our region. Regional cooperation in the Balkans has been predominantly encouraged by the European integration process, and it is a big question what the effects of the absence of a clear European perspective would be.

Serbia remains firmly committed to the stability of the region, its EU accession process, and we truly hope that all our efforts will be appropriately recognized by the EU. The first confirmation thereof would be the readiness on the part of the EU to enable opening of more negotiating chapters than we have been enabled to open over the past three years, ever since the commencement of the negotiations – which is 6 chapters.”