Dacic: “Support of EU partner countries of the Central European Initiative is very important to us”

Statement by Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia Ivica Dacic at the Annual Meeting of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the Member States of the Central European Initiative (CEI), Minsk, 22 June 2017:

“Mr. Chairman,
Dear colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

To begin with, I would like to thank Minister Makei and Secretary General of the Central European Initiative, Ambassador di Vietri for the exquisite hospitality and exceptional organization of this Annual Meeting of the CEI Ministers for Foreign Affairs.

It is my pleasure to have the opportunity today to participate in the exchange of views on connectivity in the wider region of Europe, the current situation following the major migratory movements, the rising security threat to, and reform of, the CEI, as a bridge connecting the macro-regions of Europe.

For a long time now, and in the last five years in particular, the Republic of Serbia, when prioritizing, has not distinguished between its goals of internal reforms, European integration or regional cooperation. Through various connectivity projects and forms, Serbia has been working on the widest possible infrastructural interconnectivity of this part of Europe, with the aim of being able to represent a valid, recognizable and competitive region, both regarding roads of all types and energy independence.

“The Connectivity Agenda”, established in the WB6 format within the framework of the Berlin Process, is of particular importance to us. You are aware of Serbia’s priorities in this regard, considering that we have presented them repeatedly at various events. I would only like to mention one, which is the construction of Nis-Merdare-Pristina-Tirana-Durres motorway. Our expectations from the incoming WB Summit in Trieste also include the allocation of additional funding for the implementation of three concrete projects amounting to over EUR 60 million, which we presented to the EC as a priority.

At the most recent China- CEEC (Central and Eastern European Countries) Leaders’ Meeting, an agreement was signed on the modernization of the existing railway and construction of high-speed railway connecting Belgrade and Budapest, to run the first transport service of this kind in the region.

The seat of the South East Europe Transport Observatory (SEETO) has for more than 10 years successfully operated in Belgrade, and which should, naturally, be transformed into the seat of the future Transport Community Secretariat and, taking into account all the advantages of its location, Serbia has already submitted its candidature for the seat to the EC. This would ensure the continuation of the existing institutional cooperation and its structure.

In parallel with all of the above, Serbia is actively participating in the Trans-Balkan Electricity Corridor project amounting to EUR 162 million, the completion of which would ensure interconnections of power transmission systems between Serbia and Romania as well as  between Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and also upgrade to high-capacity transmission lines within the Serbian power grid. These projects will considerably strengthen the energy exchange and energy security in the region. Furthermore, preparations are also underway for the works on the Serbia-Bulgaria gas interconnection, and our side urges that a final decision on the funding of this project be made as soon as possible.

Through all these projects, Serbia is showing readiness to connect with its neighbours, the wider region and the rest of Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In addition to our common challenge of a stronger connectivity in the wider CEI region, the migrant crisis remains a particular challenge facing all of us. Despite the fact that over 1.4 million migrants transited the territory of Serbia in the past two years and that there are over 7 thousand of them staying there at the moment, the stability has been maintained thanks to extraordinary efforts, there have been no major threats to stability, and Serbia’s treatment of migrants has throughout been in full accordance with international norms and standards. It is of crucial importance to us that the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement not be suspended, so as to increase the level of mutual cooperation, both at the identified migration routes and in the wider Europe region, with the aim of overcoming this problem.

Considering that Serbia has been in the least favourable situation, having in its territory a considerably larger number of migrants compared to other Western Balkan countries, we believe that the largest portion of the funds earmarked within the new special measure should be granted to Serbia, particularly in the context of an, at times, unequal treatment of the countries facing this problem, depending on whether they are EU Member States or not.

My country is strongly committed to addressing potential terrorist threats and all forms of violent extremism and to, in cooperation with partners worldwide, contribute to their elimination at regional, European and global levels. Even though we were among the first in the region to warn of this problem, both in the context of Islamic radicalization and the domino effect of the so-called Arab Spring, sadly it is only today that the hazards of all manifestations of radicalism and the use of force in international relations, regardless of motivation, perpetrators and originators, are fully understood.

Serbia is one of the twenty-five members of the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts tasked with ICT development in the context of international security, and as the only member state from the CEI region it has been visible in the efforts aimed at finding global solutions for building confidence among states and for establishing international rules, norms and a code of conduct. Serbia has devoted due attention to aligning itself with the EU’s Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy, whose priorities include cybersecurity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We can say that CEI is a “bridge” between the European Union Member States, on the one hand, and candidate and aspirant countries that have not yet joined the EU, on the other. Serbia considers extremely important its membership of this regional initiative, providing a framework for enhancing regional cooperation and accelerated European integration, particularly in the light of EU accession negotiations. In this respect, we consider exceptionally important the support of those EU Member States that are our CEI partner countries.

As one of the oldest regional initiatives in the continent of Europe, currently bringing together 18 states, CEI is a regional initiative whose experience and reputation can produce a significant added value in the process of connecting European macro regions. Therefore, I am pleased to note that significant efforts have been made to that effect.

Irrespective of other formats and organizations, CEI has retained its relevance which will be, I strongly believe, only affirmed through the revision of documents and the adoption of a new Plan of Action.

Locally, Serbia and its institutions, universities and civil society have fully recognized the capacity of funds and CEI invitations for cooperation, as reflected in a large response to the CEI Cooperation Fund’s Call for Proposals 2017.

I believe that, in the period ahead, it will be necessary to make additional efforts to expand its range of activities, and ensure CEI’s greater visibility as a high-level forum for discussions on political and sectoral economic issues. Therefore, I look forward to deepening cooperation between the organization and other regional and global actors, similar to what has already been established with the UN and the EU. A good example of the foregoing is the announced strengthening of cooperation with the OSCE, and the joint projects which we support, as a country aware of the importance of the organization’s field presence. We further believe that by augmenting funds and, possibly, individual contributions such as those that we, too, made in 2014, will enable the necessary strengthening of the CEI Fund for joint projects.

Serbia has recognized the need for modifying internal CEI regulations, and supports the endeavours to reinforce sectoral interaction within the CEI framework through additional ministerial meetings, whose themes would deal with connecting the wider region in the areas of transport, customs, energy, and others that are deemed necessary. Serbia also has a clear interest in intensifying cooperation through inter-parliamentary fora. It has supported the work of the Group of Experts for Guidelines review, and we hope that the results will follow shortly.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In conclusion, I would like to commend the efforts made by the Republic of Belarus as country currently holding the CEI Presidency, expressing at the same time my best wishes for chairing the regional initiative, in the period to come.

Thank you.”