Minister Dacic in Rome, attending the Informal Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Western Balkans Six

At the invitation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy, Angelino Alfano, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic participated in Rome, this evening, in the Informal Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Western Balkans Six.

This meeting is one of the preparatory high-level meetings towards the upcoming Western Balkans Summit, to be held within the framework of the “Berlin Process” in Trieste, on 12 July 2017.

Following is the statement by First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic:

“Esteemed Minister Alfano,
Distinguished Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to thank you, Minister Alfano, for the organization of this meeting, and all our distinguished colleagues who accepted the invitation to participate in, and give their contribution to, the preparations of the upcoming Western Balkans Summit, to be held in Trieste.

As soon as I read your letter, esteemed Minister Alfano, not only did I immediately decide to accept your kind invitation with pleasure, but the first that came to my mind was the saying: “Simple things are always the best”. The fact that you proposed that we discuss the regional political context before the convening of the Summit in Trieste, as well as the future of the “Balkan process” itself, and particularly since you have given us an opportunity to include in our discussion any other issue, reflects, Minister Alfano, the amount of commitment, dedication and respect for the participants of the Western Balkans with which Italy approaches the organization of the coming Summit in Trieste. Such approach is highly appreciated by Serbia.

Regarding the debates carried out in this format, I wish to underline that the “Berlin Process” and the “Western Balkans Six” have already been clearly profiled as formats whereby we encourage and deepen our cooperation. If my associates who are in charge of archives are right – and I do not have any reason not to believe them – from the launching of the “Berlin Process”, in August 2014, and the presentation of the concept document: “Connectivity in the Western Balkans”, in September of that year, until today, this is our 18th meeting, held on the ministerial or prime ministers level, within the framework of the “Berlin Process”. Let me be absolutely clear, I am speaking only of meetings on the highest level. We can ask ourselves, have we achieved progress in regional cooperation since then? Have we produced tangible results?

I consider myself a realistic person. Therefore, I do not think that I am spreading optimism or, on the other hand, that I am sharing some pessimistic assessments that I read in the reports of recent expert meetings, in this or similar formats, when saying – yes, we have achieved progress, and yes – we have tangible results, as well. And once more yes – we should continue our cooperation at a more intensive pace. I firmly believe that this is the appropriate way to provide stability and prosperity to the region, and ensure that its people have a quality life, and a better life in all segments. I am confident that the first result of our joint endeavor – the establishment and work of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office, will significantly contribute to genuine reconciliation, mutual understanding and strengthening of cooperation in all segments of our societies. Are we going to allow tensions, that apparently still occur as a result of outdated rhetoric and unresolved, outstanding issues from the past, to stop us in our progress towards reaching the highest democratic standards, and thus in achieving the goal to which we all aspire – the European Union membership? My answer to this question would be – no. Moreover, I believe that we should continue our cooperation in the implementation of all agreed infrastructural and energy projects, just as we should strengthen our cooperation in all segments that are beneficial to us. Therefore, I wish to underline that the energy, which the “Berlin Process” brought to cooperation in the Western Balkans, has not been exhausted and the process should be continued alo after the conclusion of the Trieste Summit.

Minister Alfano, when I saw the preliminary Agenda for the upcoming Summit in Trieste, my conviction only became stronger. I would like to take this opportunity to fully support Italy’s agile approach reflected also in the introduction of new topics, such as cooperation in the fight against corruption, as well as key importance attached to essential connectivity of small- and medium-sized enterprises and strengthening economic integration in the region.

Let me point out that the Republic of Serbia is well on the reform path, which I wish to illustrate with just a few examples:

1. Namely, according to the assessments of the IMF, World Bank, as well as the European Commission, Serbian economy has achieved, in 2016, best results since the beginning of the global economic crisis. Its annual growth rate amounted to 2.8%, inflation rate 1.1%, and the total deficit was 1.35%. According to the forecasts for 2017, the growth rate is expected to be at 3%, and we hope that, in the second half of the year, it will reach 3.5%. Unemployment rate has dropped by 3.2%, from 13.8% in the third quarter of 2016.
2. Serbian anti-corruption institutions fully meet international standards and continue to demonstrate a solid potential.
3. World Bank Reports indicated significant progress reached in the public administration reform, in 2016. For example, according to UN’s E-Government Development Index, in 2016, the Republic of Serbia moved 30 places up, i.e. from 69th place, in 2014, it came 39th, in 2016, out of a total of 193 countries. Similar performance was recorded in 2016 by the World Bank’s ease of “Doing business” indicator, according to which in 2016, Serbia was 47th on the list (out of 190), marking additional improvement compared to 2015.

Minister Alfano,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

At a meeting of our foreign policy advisers, in Brussels, on 24 January 2017, the European Commission presented its proposal for strengthening regional integration in the economic area, as one of the key steps in the EU association process. A segment of the Conclusions, adopted under subtitle “Common Market” by the WB6 mini-Summit, held in Sarajevo on 16 May 2017, included the following topics: circulation of goods and services, flow of skilled workforce, digital economy and investments. In my opinion, these meetings resulted in very good proposals, constituting a beneficial elements for agreements to be reached in Trieste. To put it precisely, I agree that the adoption of a “Multi-annual action plan for regional integration of the WB6” should be one of the concrete results of the upcoming Western Balkans Summit, in Trieste.

I further believe that it is necessary to devote particular attention to unutilized trade potentials of the WB region, to the effect of finding appropriate solutions. In order to make full use of the advantages offered by CEFTA, for example, as a free trade market in particular, Serbia has already proposed at the previous WB Summit in Sarajevo that an additional step forward be made in economic integration by establishing not only an internal regional single market of the WB, but a customs union as well. I believe that this should be one of the key issues for our discussion in the period ahead.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

“The Connectivity Agenda” established in the “WB6” format within the framework of the “Berlin Process” is particularly important to us. You are aware of Serbia’s priorities in this regard, as we have presented them several times, at different meetings. I would like to reiterate only one, namely, the construction of Nis-Merdare-Pristina-Tirana-Duress motorway. In the context of further implementation of already agreed and approved projects, our expectations from the coming WB Summit in Trieste also include allocation of additional financial resources, amounting to more than EUR 60 million for the implementation of three specific projects, which we presented to the European Commission as our priorities.

Minister Alfano,

Although I believe that my commitment to the continuation of the “Berlin Process”, expressed at the beginning of the meeting, was adequately substantiated, I would like to further support it by the fact that Serbia has put forward, at the WB Summit in Sarajevo, a proposal to host the next WB Summit within the framework of the “Berlin Process”, at a time to be jointly agree upon. We believe that this would indicate, on the one hand, that the entire process is being drawn closer to the region for which it was intended while, on the other, it would send out a clear-cut signal to the European Commission, that as a region, we have been making progress and building capacities for our future EU membership.

In this context, I would like to recall the statement made by EU High Representative Federica Mogherini during her visit to the Republic of Serbia, last March, that the EU will not be complete as long as Serbia, and all of the Western Balkans, have not joined the EU family. I am confident that this view is shared by all of us present here today.

Thank you for your attention.”