South East Europe is well-known for its self-cynicism

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

South East Europe must make use of current developments in Europe and the EU enlargement process to streamline itself with the grand project of European integration. But ''does not have the luxury of time',' writes Hido Biš?evi?, secretary-general of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) for South East Europe.

This commentary was authored by Hido Biš?evi? of the RCC.

''South East Europe is well-known for its self-cynicism. Living, for too long, in harsh and complex conditions, nurtured by the 'left-out' sentiments and mindsets, people tend to develop somewhat anecdotal responses to the tides of  problems, hardships, sufferings and crises that perpetually hit the southern shores of Europe.

The same was with the latest economic crisis. 'Nothing succeeds here, so this crisis will not either' was a widespread common joke in many of our countries.

Be it a joke, it is a telling one. It deeply touches upon the very essence of the inherited and, to a great extent, still present state of play in our region. It tells us where and why we need to act, as it is a story of contradicting trends and mentalities. The story of scepticism vs. opportunities, inwardness vs. openness, cooperation vs. self-sufficiency. The story of advancement based on accelerated development vs. lethargy based on political constraints.

This is why it is so important to learn from the current crisis. The region has gone through the high seas of harshest economic and financial consequences. By now, we are slowly reaching calmer waters, but long-term conclusions need to be drawn.

The region must first and foremost use the momentum of the current developments in Europe, including the EU enlargement process, to move forward and make the best of a historical opportunity to streamline itself unconditionally and responsibly with the great project of Europe, united, free, democratic and undivided.

This could be done only by moving away from political stereotypes of the past, relying upon the new brave mindsets and by persistent societal, political and legal reforms related to the EU aspirations and membership.

It should be complemented by historical responsibility to address and resolve in a timely manner and in the spirit of mutual understanding, dialogue and appeasement, the remaining open or inherited issues as they tend to put a constraint on genuine and productive cooperation.

South East Europe does not have the luxury of time. The Western Balkans in particular does not have the luxury of time. Lack of advancement may only be an introduction into stagnation, which can only lead to lagging behind and missing the opportunities.

This is where the persistency of the EU enlargement policy and continuous advancement of our countries towards EU and Euro-Atlantic integration, on individual merit and in reflection of national policies, must be sustained and implemented. In that way, we will avoid unwanted delays and unnecessary strategic vacuum, plug the region in a balanced way into the map of the new Europe, and secure stability and economic and social development.

One would hope that the crucial lesson learned from the economic and financial crisis is an awareness that our countries truly need to reach out and start working together in order to make the best use of vast human and natural resources, beyond political constraints, thus responding to long-standing and current needs of our economies and our citizens.

In reaching out to a wider audience, by introducing this Newsletter as part of a stronger profiling of the Regional Cooperation Council beyond the limits of political and governmental audiences, we aim to be part of the necessary change.

But, just as any, this change needs to be sustained and managed, in order to bring a shift away from old stereotypes, scepticism and self-sufficiencies and give way to openness based upon mutual respect, cooperation sustaining national interest, and the best use of rich diversities and vast potentials shared by the countries and the peoples in South East Europe.''

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