London, 6 July 1999 (RFE/RL) - The German Minister for Europe, Guenter Verheugen, says the Kosovo conflict has sharpened an awareness that the European Union has no alternative but to enlarge.
Verheugen also says the EU has to face up to its responsibility to bring stability to the Balkans, and must not limit its post-conflict efforts to what he called "short-term trouble-shooting" in the region.
Verheugen was speaking to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London yesterday about Germany's six-month presidency of the EU, which ended just a week ago.
Verheugen said the lesson of the Kosovo conflict is that the EU must intensify its relations with the countries of the Balkan region, including what he called a "post-Milosevic Serbia." He was referring to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Many western officials have said the West will only help reconstruction efforts in Serbia after Milosevic is no longer in power. Verheugen says:
"Bringing stability to the Balkans is a long-term task and its success will depend on whether we can offer this region a place among the family of European nations, or not. For these countries, we must devise tangible and attractive perspectives for development within Europe that should include Serbia, rid of its dictator."
Verheugen said the aim of a proposed Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe is to initiate a dialogue among all countries in the Balkan region, as well as between them and the international community, on mutual security, economic reform and democratization.
The dialogue is expected to include Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Macedonia and Slovenia.
The EU would play a key role in implementing the dialogue in cooperation with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Heads of state and government of the G-8 countries -- the seven leading industrial democracies plus Russia -- are due to hold a conference during this summer to launch the initiative.
Verheugen said Germany's tenure in the EU presidency was "intensive and turbulent" because it coincided with Kosovo and the resignation, amid allegations of corruption, of the European Commission. But he expressed confidence that Germany passed on the presidency to Finland after achieving real progress.
"These six months have dramatically altered the European Union in many ways, some foreseeable, others more unexpected. During this time we have prepared the ground for the EU's transformation from a purely western European into a truly all-European union that is able to act as a global player."
Verheugen said Germany succeeded in forging closer European integration in areas ranging from economic policy to issues of justice. But he said Kosovo had revealed some of the EU's shortcomings, particularly over a common security and defense policy.
He said EU leaders met more frequently than ever before in the past six months to discuss the Agenda 2000 reforms, which he said are crucial for preparing the union for enlargement.
He said the enlargement process intensified under the German presidency. Negotiations began with candidate countries on a range of complex issues, ranging from the free movement of goods to company law. But he said hard negotiations lie ahead on the free movement of people, competition policy, and agricultural reform. Five Central and East European countries -- Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovenia, belong to the first tier of candidate countries. Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia belong to a so-called second tier of candidates.
Verheugen said a European Council summit in Helsinki during the Finnish presidency will decide on whether to open negotiations with the second tier countries "on the basis of a progress report to be presented by the European Commission in the autumn."
Verheugen said he was disappointed by the low voter turn-out in recent the European Parliament elections. He warned European integration could fail in the long run if politicians fail to take account of the concerns of people over issues such as unemployment.
"We, the governments and the union as such, may press ahead with further integration and ever-closer cooperation in all kinds of areas. But if it will not succeed in taking our citizens on board, the entire project could fail in the long-run. We must therefore win the support of our citizens by proving that the EU is able and competent to solve the most pressing issues preoccupying people from Lisbon to Helsinki, namely unemployment and security, both at home and in the wider world."
Verheugen stressed the need for further debate on the democratic legitimacy of the EU and how to achieve greater participation in its affairs by citizens.