FM: Croatia's interest is to see Western Balkans join EU

FM: Croatia's interest is to see Western Balkans join EU Izvor: Marko Lukunic/PIXSELL

It is important to Croatia to see all Southeast European countries join European associations as soon as possible, so that conditions for peace and stability could be created in that part of Europe, Croatian Foreign Minister, Marija Pejcinovic-Buric, said in London on Monday.

Pejcinovic-Buric attended on Monday the first day of a two-day EU-western Balkans summit of ministers and leaders which focuses on a variety on issues important for the future of the region. The first day saw separate meetings of foreign ministers and interior ministers of all countries involved.

"For us, it is important to see all Southeast European countries integrated with European and Euro-Atlantic associations as soon as possible, as this is the only way to create peace, stability and prospect in the region which Croatia is connected to," Pejcinovic-Buric told reporters.

The London summit is held as part of the Berlin process, an initiative launched in 2014 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in an effort to encourage six Western Balkan countries to continue implementing reforms necessary for European integration.

She added that the meeting also focused on migration issues, which is important "not only for Southeast Europe and the European Union, but is also a global issue."

"We discussed ways how to step up cooperation between the EU and the six Western Balkan states, and how to intensify bilateral cooperation among those states," she added.

"We know that one of the migrant routes passes through all these states, it goes through Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria as well - the east Mediterranean route, which became active again, not to the extent it was before, but active enough that it must be taken into account," Pejcinovic-Buric said.

She said the summit also focused on issues related to the legacy inherited from the recent past, adding that efforts needed to be invested into resolving issues related to war crimes, and the issue of missing persons.

"For us this is the most important issue from the past," the minister said, adding that the time had come to find out the truth about people missing in the 1991-95 war.

"Croatia is still looking for 1,932 missing persons, and we believe this issue needs to be resolved in the next several years," Pejcinovic-Buric said.

The meeting in London was expected to be chaired by British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, but following his surprise resignation earlier on Monday, the duty of the host was taken over by British Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, Alan Duncan.

He announced that the United Kingdom would nearly double the funding it provides to countries in the Western Balkans to £80 million (€90.3 million), and ramp up its number of security staff in the region to try and tackle organised crime gangs.

With Britain set to leave the European Union in March next year, the UK government said the moves - which also include improving the Western Balkans countries’ cyber capabilities, and extending the presence of the Pan-Balkans Strategic Reserve Force (SRF) which is held at readiness in the UK for another year - showed it remains committed to the region’s stability.

The Western Balkans consists of six countries - Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia - all of which want to join the EU.

The combination of UK's measures pledged over the next two years will see the funding for the region rise from £41 million in 2018-19 to £80 million in 2020-21, and will be drawn from its Conflict, Security and Stability Fund (CSSF).

By doubling the number of UK staff working in the Western Balkans on security issues affecting the UK, the country hopes to reduce drug-fuelled crime in Britain and strengthen the region’s own response to serious and organised crime, and violent extremism.

The meeting in London on Monday was also attended by Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic.

The two-day London summit is the fifth summit of EU leaders, representatives of EU institutions and senior officials from the countries of Southeast Europe aspiring to join the European Union.

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