Ashton, Van Rompuy lead ‘renewed’ EU interest in Balkans

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The EU has been suffering from ''Balkan fatigue'' but with the Lisbon Treaty's structures and leaders in place, there is a renewed interest in the region, according to Valentin Inzko, High Representative and EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). He was speaking to EURACTIV Germany.

However, he warned that countries in the region are still a long way from joining the European Union – particularly BiH, where necessary constitutional reforms will not happen any time soon.

Inzko was speaking to EURACTIV Germany on the sidelines of a high-level conference on Southeast Europe in Berlin, organised on Saturday (11 December) by the Aspen Institute and the Austrian Foreign Ministry.

After last year's institutional reshaping brought on by the Lisbon Treaty, the EU can now focus on enlargement to the Balkans, he believes, with foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy now firmly in place.

''The structures are becoming clear now. Europe can now focus on issues more intensively. Even in the region, it is becoming clear that personal contributions are important,'' he said.

According to Inzko, the regional situation in the Balkans ''has never been as good as it is now'' but each country will still have to meet all of the EU’s political and economic conditions for enlargement.

Bosnian entities 'should compete'

The EU's Special Representative in Bosnia believes that competition between the country's two entities – the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska – should be encouraged in order to drive economic reform and raise living standards.

''Who has the better economy, the better investment climate? […] You could apply this idea in many areas. We would have positive competition towards best practices. There used to be such a positive atmosphere,'' he explained.

However, any economic progress would need to be matched by political will on both sides, Inzko admitted, referring to the ''German-French'' recipe for moving on from the past.

This involves reconciliation and then economic resurgence along with goal-oriented work and political will, he explained. No mean feat for Bosnia, a country thoroughly divided along ethnic lines and still recovering from the devastating 1992-5 war.

A positive step is set to be made on 15 December at least, when the EU will grant visa-free travel to all Bosnian citizens. People see it as ''a sign that they are welcome in Europe as visitors – as individuals but also as a country,'' Inzko said.

Concerns raised by some EU member states about a surge in asylum seekers following the visa liberalisation are unfounded, he added.

To read the interview in full, please click here

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