Berlin process is a push for the promotion of common economic, political and security interests of the Western Balkans

Following is the presentation made by First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic in a roundtable discussion “Berlin process: achievements and prospects” at the opening session  entitled “Berlin process: A multi-level platform calling for advancement in the implementation of the so-called soft measures”.

“Mr. Chairman, Mr. Cadez,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished economic sector representatives,
Ladies and gentlemen,

This is the second time in the space of one week that I am addressing an important international event on the Berlin process, its impact on the Western Balkan region, and the past performance and prospects. In particular, I have the pleasure to be given this time the opportunity to speak to representatives persisting in their efforts to ensure the best possible terms of trade and business, in which they are provided with an immeasurable assistance by the Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and by the state authorities.

If we look back at the period from the first Berlin Summit in August 2014, and analyse the developments through the prism of the Vienna Western Balkans Summit in 2015 and the Paris Summit in 2016, the conclusion to be inevitably drawn is that the Berlin process, in the language of business people, has meanwhile become “a regional brand”.

What makes this German product, Austrian perfected, French wrapped-up and finally expected Italian tasty, so special?

I’d say that it is above all the fact that “its connectivity” is the key cooperation principle. The 18-point Berlin Declaration, drafted by the German Chair at that time, of the WB Summit in 2014, provided us with a clear four-year political framework and guidelines for cooperation in the Western Balkan region, to bear concrete fruits. Already point 1 of the Berlin Declaration defined key political objectives, such as substantial progress in the reform process, settlement of open bilateral issues and achievement of regional reconciliation. It also defined the key toolbox for accomplishing these goals, namely strengthening regional economic cooperation and creating the basis for sustained economic growth.

I would like to recall that within the WB region Serbia was the first to embark upon the implementation of both political and economic objectives defined in the Berlin Declaration. In fact, the Conference on the Western Balkans held in the format of the Western Balkans Six (WB6), whose participants were at the same time participants of the Berlin process, took place in Belgrade on 23 October 2014 and was entitled “Western Balkans Conference: Economic Governance and Connectivity. The Conference resulted in the adoption of the Joint Statement on Economic Governance and Connectivity.

Bearing in mind that Serbia has from the very beginning contributed to the activities in the framework of the Berlin process, it should be no surprise that it was exactly Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic who inspired the idea to move a step forward in the region’s economic integration by creating a customs union, which was discussed at a preparatory meeting of WB6 Prime Ministers in Sarajevo on 16 March.

Italy’s decision to focus the attention of the forthcoming Summit on the Western Balkans in Trieste on 12 July precisely on improving economic connectivity and creating a WB regional economic area, is assessed by us as excellent. Our position on this matter is very clear for a number of reasons:

Firstly, Serbia has no doubts that to adopt a multi-year Action Plan on WB6 regional integration should be a concrete outcome of the upcoming WB Summit in Trieste. I particularly underlined this also at the preparatory meeting of WB6 Foreign Ministers that I attended in Rome on 24 May. This is also supported by the chambers of commerce which have asked their respective governments to dismantle the existing barriers and thereby facilitate regional economic integration.

The European Commission, too, has special interest in establishing a regional economic area in the Balkans, seeing it as a significant step leading to the European integration of the region, as well.

I believe that we should all have in mind this:

Individually, all regional economies are comparatively small markets according to the current standards of global business dealing; if looked as a whole, it is a market of close to 20 million people;

Investment is the main source of economic growth and it is investments that contribute to an increase in commercial exchange with the European Union, the principal trading partner of the region as a whole;

The living standards of the population in the WB region are considerably lower than those in EU countries, and unemployment rates of the region are among the highest in Europe; it is the reforms we need to carry out on the path to EU membership that should help us resolve these issues.

Secondly, it is evident that the potential for trade in our region has been underutilized, while the regional economies have not been sufficiently integrated in the global market. CEFTA is one of the more successful models of trade cooperation. We believe that we can work further on the basis of the existing framework for a free trade area in order to agree on and harmonize common interests in areas set out in the Conclusions of the WB6 Presidents in Sarajevo, section on the Common Market, covering themes such as movement of goods and services, movement of skilled labour, digital economy and investment, and

Thirdly, it is very encouraging to note that agreement was reached by Presidents of WB6 Economic Chambers, including also the Chambers of Commerce of Croatia and Slovenia, in the margins of the International Trade Fair in Mostar on 4 April 2017, to proceed to establish a Permanent Secretariat of the WB Chambers Investment Forum, as a legal entity, headquartered in Trieste, which will represent the interests of a market of almost 25 million people. I have been honoured and gladdened by the announcement that the formal ceremony of opening the offices of the Secretariat, held as a side-event to the Business Forum of the coming Trieste Summit on 12 July, will, in addition to the Ministers of Economic Affairs, also be attended by Ministers of Foreign Affairs by invitation, and I shall be delighted to accept such an invitation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The agenda underlying the Berlin process is the Connectivity Agenda that is primarily being implemented in transport and energy sectors. In order to facilitate integration in these two areas and to remove existing barriers, it was agreed to apply the so-called soft measures nationally and regionally. These measures are not easy. As a matter of fact, they are very complex and last long but, most importantly, we are working dedicatedly on their implementation despite all the challenges. Although, to our regret, we have not succeeded in implementing all agreed measures, Serbia can be regarded as being best when it comes to the implementation of soft measures, especially those depending on us. The fulfilment of soft measures was discussed at a meeting in Brussels on 16 May, when the European Commission presented its fulfilment assessments that found the overall progress made by Serbia in transport as “very good”, whereas in the energy sector it was noted that there were many open issues but that the past period saw six soft measures being implemented, and on three of these there was progress. While not wanting to go into technical details on this occasion, I will however mention a couple of measures we have fulfilled thus far and which are of a reform and substantive nature: Serbia has eliminated legal and contractual obstacles and created opportunities for the establishment of a regional market for electrical power and opening of its rail market to all operators.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The coming Trieste summit should bring progress in the strengthening of regional cooperation in transport in the Western Balkan region and its connectivity with the EU through the process of harmonization of legislation and policies in this field, which will become a reality if, as planned, a SEE Transport Community Treaty is signed in Trieste on 12 July. I would like to inform you that all institutional steps have been taken at the national level and that the Republic of Serbia is going to initial the text of the Treaty in the course of this week. This time, I would like to reiterate the interest of the Republic of Serbia to host the seat of the Transport Community Secretariat in Belgrade, having in mind that the South East Europe Transport Observatory (SEETO), to be transformed into the future Transport Community, has successfully operated in Belgrade for more than 10 years now. Many other reasons, such as the geographic location at a crossroads of European routes, connections of Belgrade with the rest of the region, financial contribution of Serbia, major infrastructural projects – are all in favour of Belgrade and Serbia.

I would like to remind you that the idea about the establishment of a Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) of the Western Balkans, launched at the Berlin Summit on the Western Balkans in 2014 by Serbian PM Aleksandar Vucic, has in the meantime been realized and that in the period prior to the Summit in Trieste, the RYCO will implement its first projects. Serbia has been honoured that its candidate has been elected first Secretary General of RYCO, believing that the coming years will see the Office operate as a sustained and efficient mechanism of youth regional cooperation based on mobility, exchange of ideas, peer education and tolerance.

In closing, I would like to emphasize that the Berlin process is an impetus to us to promote common economic, political and security interests of the Western Balkan region. We see in it exactly the “by-pass” needed to overcome, though our performances, the enlargement fatigue sometimes shown in the EU and become full-fledged members of the European family.

I would like to add that there are good intentions on the part of Serbia both when it comes to the further intensification of regional cooperation as an essential basis for the stability of the region and when it comes to fighting everything undermining the principles of good economic governance, and here I primarily have in mind the fight against corruption and organized crime, as well as the continuation of the initiated reforms that will ensure sustainable economic growth.

Thank you for your attention and I wish you successful deliberations.”