Sastanak ministara vanjskih poslova država članica Srednjoeuropske inicijative (SEI)

Mister Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The last couple of months were marked by significant, although expected political developments within the framework of the EU enlargement process. Signing the Treaty of Accession in Athens on April 16th finalised the completion of the biggest enlargement in the EU history with implications that go far beyond strictly political scope. As of May 1st 2004 we will be dealing with the Union of 25 Member States, seven of them being CEI Members as well. Therefore, I will seize this opportunity to extend my congratulations to the representatives of the acceding countries- Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. I also praise the continuing efforts and achievements of Bulgaria and Romania steering them towards full membership as set in their own, as well as the EU, outline.

The international situation shows how necessary is our ongoing dialogue on major political issues is. It also confirms the role of regional co-operation as a support mechanism for the strengthening of democratic processes and European perspectives of CEI Member States. The fact that after the year 2004 the CEI membership will encompass seven EU Member States is certainly changing the perception of this regional forum and opening new vistas for adapting the co-operation mechanisms within the CEI programmes to the EU standards. Through co-operation among our States, the impact of EU enlargement can be steered towards positive shaping of the CEI space into an area of co-operation, good neighbourliness and joint European future.

As far as Croatia is concerned, I am very pleased to say that we have had a very busy schedule as well. There were at least two important dates highlighted on our EU calendar, one being submission of Croatian application for membership in the EU and the other request of the Council of Ministers to the European Commission to prepare an avis. We are very grateful to all EU countries, which are encouraging our accession to the EU.

We do not deceive ourselves believing we have an easy path before us. While this path is undoubtedly defined, our advancement will require maximum efforts by all government bodies, public institutions and other relevant parts of the Croatian society in order to fulfill the demanding tasks that are still awaiting.

By embarking upon the accession process Croatia intents not to detach itself from the region but to further contribute to its stability and prosperity. That, apart from being an obligation in SAA, is in our own best interest. With this step we are assuming even greater responsibility for fostering stability and prosperity in the region, having in mind positive effects of Slovenia's and Hungary's accession to the EU for their neighbors, Croatia being among them. It goes without saying that Croatia’s achievements toward the EU will give a new quality and intensify our engagement within the CEI and other regional frameworks.

Therefore, within the regional framework, the decision on Croatia’s application should be considered an additional confirmation of the European perspective for all Stabilisation and Association Process countries. It should also be taken as another proof of the individual approach principle demonstrating to the other SAP countries the benefits of meeting the required commitments and obligations.

Croatia expects that Thessaloniki summit will add the new dimension to the process. Although stronger wording could give additional impetus to proceed with the pending reforms, we firmly believe only enhanced mechanisms, such as European Integration Partnerships listed in the proposal of the European Commission, will significantly improve performance of the SAP countries in the EU integration process.

We also expect that undertakings of the Greek presidency on giving the SAP countries more visibility and weight within the EU policies will be matched by equal efforts of the Italian chairmanship. Italy, as one of the architects in the processes that resulted in the creation of both the EU and CEI as well, will hopefully link those two roles aiming to further promote advancement of the CEI Members on their way to the EU.

This task, I believe, is very much alleviated by the fact that today all open issues in the region are being dealt with within the framework of good neighborly relations. Croatia, aware of the linkage between its own progress and stable, secure and friendly environment, builds constructive relations with all its neighbors. This is being done on both bilateral and multilateral level.

Republic of Croatia expects that in the forthcoming period the CEI will be developing a strategy for future action by using the advantages of EU enlargement in favor of some of its Member States. In this regard I would stress the principle of solidarity and the importance of the integration experience gained by the transitional countries, new EU Members, for the processes of conforming with the EU standards in all CEI States. Political and institutional support of new EU Members will be valuable contribution to further progress of CEI countries to the European Union.

CEI, being the oldest and the largest regional forum, has already proved itself to be worthy of contribution to regional stability and progress. Its comprehensive and well- balanced approach successfully combines individual needs and objectives with mutual interests placing it all within much broader context of transitional processes of its member countries.

The coming period, due to the actual enlargement wave comprising altogether five new EU and four new NATO members coming from CEI, will give CEI an even more significant role as a forum for exchange of experience and mutual support in pursuing similar ambitions. Croatia, given its position and goals regarding Euroatlantic integration, is particularly supportive of this idea. Moreover, I am convinced that mutual assistance in our common endeavor to be part of a "Europe whole and free" is extremely important to all of our countries.

Thank you.