Paris '07 Workshop
Major Challenges for the Balkan Region and Albania's Contribution
|Albanian Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu (2nd from right), with, from left to right, Georgian Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili, Bulgarian Defense Minister Veselin Bliznakov, and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk.|
"We believe that an
independent Kosovo that respects and guarantees the rights
of all its citizens and its ethnic and cultural groups provides the
most suitable and sustainable solution to this challenge."
The Balkans region is a very challenging one. It experienced many problems in the past, some of which are still present, but the area now has a very positive prospect: EU and NATO membership for all countries of the region.
It is a challenge to face the problems of the past—the ethnic differences and the multi-ethnic societies—but the challenge must be met in order to strengthen democratic institutions, resolve unfinished status problems, build a solid economy, and profit from the beautiful and unlimited resources in the region. I believe that a great message for the Balkans came out of the Riga summit, clearly recognizing the progress made by Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia and encouraging these countries’ efforts towards membership. Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina are now participating in the Partnership for Peace Program, so it seems that all the Balkans, or the western Balkans, are on the same boat looking forward, not back.
MAJOR CHALLENGES FOR THE REGION
There are several challenges the countries of the region now face:
· Pursuing international terrorism, organized crime, human and drug trafficking, corruption, residual Cold War arsenals, and ethnic differences, which pose the main threats to the region’s stability. These threats require more active engagement by our countries and close cooperation between them; without this happening, efforts to contain the threats will not succeed.
· The final status of Kosovo. Kosovo poses another challenge to the western Balkans. We believe that an independent Kosovo that respects and guarantees the rights of all its citizens and its ethnic and cultural groups provides the most suitable and sustainable solution to this challenge. Within this context, the solution to the status of Kosovo should move ahead in accordance with President Ahtisaari’s proposal package. We believe that Kosovo’s future has and will have a direct impact on all Balkans security and the right solution will improve government capacities and effectiveness. The international community must remain engaged in Kosovo by providing the expertise needed to assist the newly emerging state in achieving its full potential and to proceed down the road to Euro-Atlantic integration.
ALBANIA’S CONTRIBUTION TO BALKANS REGIONAL STABILITY
Albania’s strategic aim is to become a full-fledged member of NATO and the EU. I think that there is simply no alternative for the other countries of the region as well. Euro-Atlantic integration offers the only way forward.
The Albanian government is fully committed to a zero-tolerance policy for fighting organized crime and corruption. We are also committed to the international fight against terrorism and have soldiers serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia. On May 24, 2007, we signed the agreement that officially confirms Albanian participation in Operation Active Endeavor. Our commitment to share the responsibility for transatlantic security and to fight against terrorism is reflected in our growing participation in Afghanistan, where we will increase by one company our participation in NATO-led operations.
As far as regional initiatives are concerned, the Adriatic Charter III (the A3), with Albania, Macedonia, and Croatia coming together with the United States, has proven to be an important asset for enhancing regional cooperation. Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia have already made significant progress in NATO integration, which is the primary goal of the A3 initiative. We also welcomed the new PfP countries, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro, and are cooperating with them, yet another contribution to Balkans security. Building common security systems, compatible and interoperable sea surveillance systems, and training and educational institutions will help to create more trust, a very important element for the security of the region.
An initiative of both NATO and non-NATO countries, the Southeastern Europe Defense Ministerial (SEDM) process, which promotes regional cooperation and good neighbor relations, strengthens regional defense capabilities through collective efforts, and establishes links for facilitating integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions, is helping to increase cooperation and more effectively face regional and global challenges. During the SEDM meeting in Tirana, we opened the door to Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, more evidence of the growing strength of this initiative and the cooperation among nations of the region. We are positive that the SEDM meeting in Ukraine will consider the need for combined training teams from SEDM countries to participate in Afghanistan, a request made at the NATO-ISAF countries meeting in Brussels.
WORK THAT IS YET TO BE DONE
There are six major efforts that need to be undertaken:
1. Coordinating all Balkans countries’ efforts toward facing the security challenges.
2. More active participation and coordination between the EU and NATO and the countries in the Balkans.
3. Increasing and consolidating economic relations within the region, especially concerning the energy crisis, and connecting with the EU energy system.
4. Finalizing the status of Kosovo without delay, based on the Ahtisaari proposal; any attempt by Russia to delay finalization without bringing a concrete solution to the table will be counterproductive.
5. Continuing efforts to fight organized crime with the help of specialized agencies from the U.S. and Europe; tackling with a great deal of seriousness the problems of drug and human trafficking and corruption and increasing intelligence cooperation.
6. Promoting religious and ethnic tolerance in the region as well as facing religious extremism regardless of where it originates.
To sum up, solidarity, regional cooperation, and permanent and sustainable policies must serve as the framework for facing the present challenges and for ensuring the security and stability of the Balkans. I am optimistic about the result because I believe that stability, security, and prosperity will prevail in the region by strengthening democracy, collective integration, and the rule of law.