Sastanak ministara vanjskih poslova Procesa suradnje u JIE (SEECP)

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Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentleman,

Allow me to greet you on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Croatia and to thank our chairman for all his efforts. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some thoughts about most important regional developments and especially upcoming Summit in Thessaloniki.

We are all witnessing development and strengthening of regional activities. We meet in different regional fora at all levels, including the highest, almost more frequently than EU members among themselves, working closely together and addressing common problems and concerns.

Regional co-operation is also one of the preconditions for inclusion of our countries in the EU. But it is encouraging that there is a will to co-operate, not only because of the EU conditionality, but first and foremost because it is in our own best interest.

I would like to stress with great satisfaction that only two weeks ago Croatia hosted the meetings of the Regional Table and all three Working Tables of the Stability Pact for South East Europe in Cavtat. We were very glad to host, among others, Special Co-ordinator for the Stability Pact Mr. Busek and our today's host minister Ivanić speaking on behalf of the SEECP. The Regional Table reiterated its willingness to ensure complementarity of the activities of the Stability Pact to the Stabilisation and Association Process and highlighted the valuable work the Stability Pact has undertaken to support the development of the SEECP in its aspirations to be an authentic and indigenous political voice of the region. Once again, I would like to stress the importance of the presence of the Chairman in Office of the SEECP at the meetings of the Informal Consultative Committee of the Stability Pact and we have all witnessed that during last year that was used for better circulation of information, especially about the activities of the Stability Pact that are complementary to the activities of the SEECP.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Exactly two months have passed since our last meeting in Belgrade. In such a short time important things happened for Croatia. On April 14 Council of Ministers of the EU entrusted European Commission with preparing Avis on Croatia's application for the membership in the EU. This is a practical indication of the EU's commitment towards the region, which confirms that our future lies within the EU. The Government of Croatia firmly believes that our progress in the EU accession opens the doors for the other countries of the region as well.

In parallel with the progress in the EU accession Croatia is strengthening its bilateral and good neighbourly relations with the countries of the region. I would just mention that from the 1st of June citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina could enter Croatia only with identity cards and vice versa. Last week Croatian Government decided to suspend visas for Serbia and Montenegro citizens from June 10 to December 31 and we hope that liberalisation of the visa regime would give an impetus to further improve our relations and to resolve remaining open questions. We also welcomed decision of the Government of Serbia and Montenegro to abolish visas for Croatian citizens and most recent decision of Government of Albania to do the same.

Aspiration of all of our countries is to join the EU and NATO. That aspiration is, at the same time, an important incentive to develop good bilateral relations with their member states. Unfortunately, policies of those member countries are not always compatible, as we have seen recently in the case of Iraq when many of us were faced with some complicated and tough decisions. Another example is the USA request for non-extradition of its citizens to the International Criminal Court and the EU guidelines that are contradicting the US request. The fact that many of the countries of the region are the signatories of the Statute of the Court and that some of us are under jurisdiction of the International Criminal Tribunal for crimes committed in former Yugoslavia in Hague and have the obligation of full co-operation with it, including extraditing our own citizens, makes our situation even more difficult. A lot of political courage and wisdom is needed to find a solution that will preserve our own national interest and satisfy contradicting demands that are imposed on us. I can only hope that the EU and the US will reach some sort of compromise soon, thus facilitating our lives.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Republic of Croatia is an observer to the Process and a very active one, but, as President Mesić has already stated at Belgrade Summit, our Government is considering application for the status of the full participant to the SEECP. In the meantime, we will continue to give our constructive input to the SEECP activities in all fields, especially in those proclaimed as priorities such as promotion of free trade in the region; promotion of co-operation in the filed of energy; promotion of transport infrastructure (in particular having in mind pan-European transport corridors), development of telecommunication; and intensified combat against organised crime and terrorism.

Finally, Mr Chairman, your excellencies, let me share with you some general remarks regarding the upcoming THESSALONIKI SUMMIT.

The forthcoming Thessaloniki Summit is of crucial importance for the future relations between the SAP countries and the EU. It should also give an additional impetus for the internal development and reforms of these five countries. Thessaloniki Summit will be a step foreword after the Zagreb Summit in November 2000. As the European Commission suggested in its 2nd Annual Report on Stabilisation and Association Process for South East Europe, Summit aims at sending a strong political message to the countries and the peoples of the region, namely that the EU is committed to the European future of all SAP countries and that Europe will be re-unified only after this region has become an integral part of it.

We were glad to host the first Preparatory Meeting for the Thessaloniki on April 11 in Zagreb, where many valuable contributions about the future relations between the SAP countries and the EU were heard. In Rome, at the second preparatory meeting, many of those ideas were already included in the EU preparatory papers, namely, European Commission's Communication and Presidency's Briefing Note.

Our expectations are that Summit will enhance and establish the countries of the region as the priority of the EU during following years and enrich the mechanisms of co-operation and assistance to the SAP countries. In the Final Declaration of the Thessaloniki Summit we would like to see that our countries are mentioned as "future members of the EU". We are of the opinion that Summit should also give clear references about future financial support to the SAP countries and opening of the pre-accession or similar funds. It is in our vital interest that the European Integration Partnership, as mentioned in Communication of the European Commission from May 21, becomes a reality.

I thank you very much the Greek Presidency for all its efforts to bring the countries of South East Europe closer to the EU, and hope that they will continue to do so with the same enthusiasm. Let us all do our best to make Thessaloniki summit a success.