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Second Annual International Conference: NATO, EU and the New Risks: A Southeast Europe Perspective
 
29-30 October, 2004
Sofia, Bulgaria



Plamen Panayotov, Deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria


Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honor and pleasure for me to be with you here on such a big day for Europe when Bulgaria’s Prime Minister is in Rome to sign, along with all EU leaders, the European Constitution. On this day Europe is turning a new page in its history raising new hopes for the future. These new hopes for Bulgaria are inseparably linked with its membership in NATO and the EU.

I wish to thank the Center for the Study of Democracy who, by organizing this second high-profile SEE security forum, have laid the grounds of a very useful tradition. I believe that such events contribute to the transformation of SEE into a zone of peace, security and stability. They are not merely fora at which to discuss and formulate new ideas about future development. They bring to life our willingness and ability to work in partnership in a variety of forms and at all levels in order to attain our common goals.

One such major goal for all of us is to achieve durable peace in Southeast Europe. In the pursuit of this goal we can rely on our staunch and influential allies – NATO and the EU. Before I consider their key role for security and stability in the region, however, I would like to examine briefly the contemporary challenges we face.

The first challenge is associated with the new millennium’s global security threats of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The second challenge is more regional. It is the result of last decade’s crises and conflicts in the Western Balkans, of sluggish reforms in some SEE countries, of economic pitfalls, corruption, trans-border organized crime, and trafficking in people, drugs and arms. These two sets of risks are closely related and interdependent. Terrorism is much more likely to spring up among chaos and poverty, while the monies of organized crime, people and drug traffickers are frequently invested in terrorist activities. The regional challenges, therefore, must not be narrowly viewed as an impediment to the Western Balkans’ Euro-Atlantic integration. If these challenges could be tackled successfully, the more global terrorist threat would also be defeated.

If NATO’s and EU’s involvement into regional security issues was to be defined in a single sentence, it would read: The “peaceful and prosperous Balkans” has two steadfast supporters –NATO and the EU. And this has been proven on numerous occasions in the last decade. NATO was the key force in the settlement of former Yugoslavia’s dissociation’s bloody conflicts. The Alliance has acted as the main guarantor of regional stability ever since its first 1993 operation in the Balkans which was its first operation beyond its own territorial limits as well. The Alliance’s political and military interventions at times of crisis have been of fundamental importance as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia prove.

At its Istanbul summit in June of this year the Alliance identified the Balkans as a region of strategic importance and confirmed its commitment to integrate all Balkan states in Euro-Atlantic structures in accordance with the NATO membership standards. One instance of this commitment are the NATO-led operations in the Western Balkans. The summit also stressed NATO’s keynote political involvement, military presence and partnership with the Balkan countries as a way to establish security and stability.

By the end of this year NATO should have completed the transformation of its role in Bosnia and Herzegovina which is the result of the reassessment done by the Alliance of the situations and needs of the Western Balkans. SFOR is to be replaced by the EU-led operation Altea. My use of the word “transformation” is far from accidental. These changes are often publicly described as an “end of NATO’s mission” in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is practically not true. The Alliance is going to keep its presence through an HQ in Sarajevo staffed by 150 people. Moreover, operation Altea is to be carried out according to the Berlin Plus formula which means that it will use up NATO forces and capabilities. Thus, the Alliance is keeping its direct involvement in BiH stability issues, albeit in a different form.

In addition, NATO will preserve its Kosovo mission through the KFOR at least by the middle of 2005 when the standards fulfillment assessment will be carried out according to the standards-before-status policy. By the same line, the US – a key partner to Bulgaria, are also going to keep their own mission in the province.

NATO’s enlargement policy is another important contribution to security and stability in Southeast Europe. For Romania and Bulgaria NATO membership has proven to be a strong impetus to reforms in the course of their transition to democracy. It is essential for the new aspiring countries Albania, Macedonia and Croatia to negotiate a fixed date for receiving full NATO membership. It is no less important for Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina to start their Euro-Atlantic integration through the Partnership for Peace initiative. Besides the positive impact on these countries’ domestic situation, it will encourage them to a greater participation in regional security cooperation. Thus, the investment in trust will prove to be an investment in the security and welfare of Southeast Europe.

Besides these political and defense aspects of NATO’s presence in the region, there are some strong economic aftereffects as well, and we say that from experience. Statistical data show that foreign investment in Bulgaria has had a nine-fold increase since the country’s original invitation for membership in November 2002 – from 900 m. to over 8 billion USD. This is all in all the result of the overall government policy to create the best possible investment climate, secure rapid economic growth and improve citizens’ welfare. The 2005 budget is also founded on this policy. Considering economic figures, we could ask what economic progress Bulgaria would have made, had it been invited for NATO membership earlier. Consequently, the sooner the three new candidates are admitted as members, the better for the whole region.

I would like to speak now about the other strategic supporter of the SEE cause, that is, the European Union. The EU like NATO was a catalyst to the process of transition to peace, stability and democracy through its overall policy of integration and through the operations conducted by EU members in the Western Balkans.

All SEE countries have set EU membership as their utmost priority which has led them to implement a large-scale remedial efforts in the basic public domains – politics, business, social services and the administration. The goal pursued by SEE societies is sustainable democracy and market economy based on the rule of law, on respect for human rights and the rights of minorities, on ethnic, religious and cultural tolerance. Moreover, they are aiming at an effective counteraction to corruption and crime.

The stabilization and association process launched by the European Union became the landmark of the Union’s integration policy concerning the Western Balkans. The results achieved so far are quite optimistic. I will only dwell on some of the most recent events. The Association Agreement of the Macedonia has become effective and the country has officially applied for EU membership. Albania has started negotiations to conclude a Stabilization and Association Agreement. The Commission has initiated preliminary procedures on Stabilization and Association Agreements with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro. Croatia has received an EU candidate-country status and will start its accession negotiations in early 2005.

The traditional idea of the EU as a civil and economic entity deprived of ambitions and means to act on defense issues has been turned upside down by its Western Balkan interventions – the EUPM in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the operations Concordia and Proxima in Macedonia. The forthcoming operation Altea in Bosnia and Herzegovina will fortify the EU’s new security-related role.

Concerning operation Altea, it is very important to note that it is going to be managed by the EU, under its auspices, but will be performed through NATO forces and capabilities. Thus Balkan security and stability are regarded not simply as an area where both organizations contribute or a zone of overlapping interests. They are also set as a common goal the achievement of which NATO and the EU jointly pursue. Working towards this goal NATO and the EU adopted a joint approach for the Western Balkans in July 2003.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

NATO and the EU have one more vital part in the region – they have encouraged closer ties between the SEE countries as a way to achieve regional security. They have consistently sent messages about the indispensability of regional cooperation in the progress to both our NATO and EU accession. The governments of NATO members Greece and Turkey gave their unequivocal support to this policy. The EU in its turn created special financial instruments to fund trans-border and regional cooperation. Thus, the policy agenda of the region at present is set by the local advocates of the Euro-Atlantic ideas. They are a majority and this majority’s actions are based on a culture of cooperation rather than rivalry and division. Present-day Southeast Europe is a more secure place than it has ever been. Bound by its Euro-Atlantic ideals it is no longer susceptible to the causes that once divided it.

I would like to assure you that as a recent NATO member and an EU member-to-be Bulgaria will unswervingly advocate the integration of all SEE countries in the two alliances. We will share experience and provide assistance to this end. We regard it as a purely Bulgarian interest to support the Balkan peoples in the name of peace and security in Europe and the world.

I believe that your conference will make a valuable contribution to this common goal of ours and I wish you every success!

 
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