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24-11-2000 Remarks by the Taoiseach at the Zagreb Summit


Mr Chairman,

I should first of all like to congratulate President Mesic and the Government of Croatia for the excellent organisation of this important conference today. The holding of this meeting in your beautiful capital city is confirmation of the regard and respect we have for the achievements of your Government since your election at the end of last year.

I firmly believe that the future of all countries in this region lies within the European Union. Subject to the democratic will of each state, I hope that each country can and will approach its European vocation at a pace and in a manner which is appropriate to its individual circumstances. Although complex and difficult tasks, modernisation of public life, implementing the necessary economic and social reforms and closely cooperating with your neighbours in South Eastern Europe are the means by which closer integration with the Union can be achieved.

However, our meeting is proof of the European Union's commitment to assisting in the major challenge of achieving the objectives of democracy, respect for human rights, reconstruction and economic and social development throughout the Western Balkans. The presence of leaders from all the countries of the Western Balkans freely elected by their peoples is proof that the seed of democracy has taken root in the region and is thriving. The fact that representatives are also here from many organisations that are active in the region is a further manifestation of the commitment of participating states to our collective objectives. Today's Declaration is the result of that constructive engagement and I am very pleased to strongly endorse on behalf of Ireland the political and economic objectives, and the means to achieving them, which have been set out in the document.

The scale of the human tragedy and devastation in the Western Balkans over the last ten years, and the resultant destabilisation throughout the region gives rise to compelling reasons for immediate remedial action. An important element in this response is the Stability Pact which is now being implemented in the region. I would like to compliment the Special Co-ordinator Mr Hombach and his staff on the progress that has been made in the 18 months since the Pact was launched and I would like to assure you of Ireland's full support for the Pact as we move to the next stage following the implementation of the "Quick Start" projects. We are under no illusions about the difficulties and extent of the tasks which still lie ahead with the return of refugees, to reconstruct and rehabilitate the region and give it a stable future, but we believe that, with the recent changes in Belgrade this process is now in train and on an irreversible course. I would like to join with previous speakers in extending a warm welcome to President Kostunica to this important meeting which marks a significant stage in the integration of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the regional processes. The final piece of the jigsaw is in place.

The object of our work today is to recognise the progress which has already been made and to set out a blueprint for the future relations between the EU and the countries of the Western Balkans. The Declaration which we are adopting is clear and comprehensive in this regard. Most importantly, the Declaration emphasises the need to make progress on economic and social matters and civil and political issues in tandem if sustainable improvements in the quality of life of people are to be achieved. We in the European Union have experienced the value of such an integrated approach in tackling a variety of challenges.

Equally significantly, the Declaration makes clear that the only viable way ahead is through the establishment of open and fully functioning democracies, with full respect for the human rights of all citizens - irrespective of their ethnic origin; the development of participatory economies; and the establishment of good relations between immediate neighbours. Moving towards a closer relationship with the Union promises benefits and holds out the prospects of rewards, while leaving no doubt that these have to be earned. As the representative of a country which has had to face significant economic and social challenges, and has benefited from the experience, I would like to encourage the countries of the region to face up to these challenges squarely and to seize the opportunities which are being offered to them today.

Given the recent history of this region, certainly, there are concerns and even fears on all sides and yes, there are wounds which will take a long time to heal. We know only too well from our own experience on the island of Ireland the difficulties of reconciliation after a lengthy conflict. Perseverance and patience are necessary, but we have learned also the value of external participation in the reconciliation process and of the benefit of addressing our difficulties in the wider European and international context. I would urge the leaders of all the countries of the region to encourage their peoples in overcoming these difficulties and beginning the task of reconciliation.

President Kostunica, your presence here today, is evidence of the extraordinary changes that have taken place in Belgrade and is a positive message to neighbouring countries that Yugoslavia is committed to overcoming the legacy of the ten years which have brought bloodshed, war and ethnic cleansing to the Balkans. The welcome extended to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is also a signal by all the neighbours of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and of the European Union that they are ready to offer the hand of friendship to the Yugoslav people.

Justice is an essential element in any process of reconciliation. Those who have committed crimes must be brought to account. In particular, all individuals indicted by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia should be brought before that body as soon as possible.

Mr Chairman, Dear Colleagues,

We should work with the past to win a better future. And today is the day when the building of bridges, which is a symbol of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe – physically and politically, will now also start again between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the wider region.

The Stabilisation and Association Process will provide the opportunity for increased regional cooperation. This is also why Ireland will support an action plan of closer cooperation in the fields of dismantling trade barriers in South Eastern Europe, the common fight against trans-border organised crime, benchmarking in democratic institution building and other fields you may choose. Progress in these areas would greatly contribute to the acceleration of the EU "Stabilisation and Association Process" for each of the countries concerned.

There are parallel tracks leading to the same destination of peaceful prosperity, the one being each country's relations with the European Union, and the other being each country's relations with its neighbours in the region. Both must be followed in order to reach this destination to which all our peoples aspire.

Thank you, Mr Chairman.