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A. Rasmussen: Address to World Summit 2020

Address to World Summit 2020, Seoul, Korea, February 3-8, 2020


Throughout my public life I have been proud to play a role in the world’s two most successful peace projects: The European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

NATO achieves peace through collective strength, bringing more Euro-Atlantic countries under its protective shield.

The EU has delivered reconciliation—through integration of governments, peoples and markets.

In both roles I held in the EU and NATO – as holder of the rotating presidency of the European Council in 2002 and as NATO secretary general until 2014 – I argued that the benefits of both NATO and the EU should be extended to those who sought them.

And I firmly believe that neither project will be complete until the Western Balkans are fully integrated equals. This is how we bring lasting peace to Southeastern Europe. And this is why I believe we must now begin EU accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania.

The disintegration of Yugoslavia brought chaos, disaster and death to Europe’s shores. From the mass graves of Srebrenica to the systematic rape of women and girls in Eastern Bosnia, the scars are still clear for all to see.

But the healing has begun, and 25 years on the situation is almost unrecognizable. Slovenia and Croatia have boomed, joining NATO and the EU. For the others, a credible accession path for both the EU and NATO has accelerated the pace of reconciliation.

It has acted as a driver for reforms. And it has helped stabilize a region – all within a generation of ethnic conflict.

And, in an effort to embrace their common European future, the Western Balkans have agreed to form a mini-Schengen common travel area, putting aside old animosities.

The EU path also has helped to settle old disputes. For example, North Macedonia together with Greece solved one of the longest-running disputes in Europe.

There is always more to do to secure the peace. But we must not forget how far we have come.

Peace and reconciliation in the Western Balkans have taken real courage. European leaders should show similar political courage themselves. If we allow the Western Balkans to go into reverse gear, both sides will lose. In Europe we will lose all credibility. In the Western Balkans citizens will lose all hope.

We must not drop the ball now. Opening membership negotiations is the tool to keep the momentum for reforms moving forward.

Already we are at risk of sparking a demographic winter in the Balkans. If people cannot have the European perspective they desire at home, they will seek it by moving to the EU.

Yet a European perspective does not mean that membership will happen overnight. EU membership is not a single event or a treaty signing. It is a process of reform, democratization and good governance that benefits all, a process that brings freedom and rule of law.

The membership perspective is the EU’s strongest tool for enshrining its values in its own neighborhood. Other powers that do not share our values—such as China—are hungry for influence. They will fill the vacuum we leave behind.

NATO already has extended its collective umbrella to the Western Balkans. And it has been a success. Albania, a member of NATO since 2013, has made important contributions to the alliance. In the Albanian town of Kucova—once known as Stalin City—NATO is investing to increase its reach in the Mediterranean and Black Seas.

Albania also is helping to bring dialogue and reconciliation to other countries, currently holding the rotating presidency of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE).

Of course, NATO’s membership requirements are different from the EU’s. But in NATO we have seen how the Western Balkans have proven themselves to be reliable partners.

So, yes, we’ve seen remarkable progress. But there is still much more work to do, to reconcile communities, to reform governments, and to continue the fight against corruption and organized crime.

I believe this is where civil society has an important role to play. And I welcome the Southeast Europe Peace Initiative being launched at this event.

We need civil society to bring people together and bridge the ethnic community divides. We need civil society to demand that the governments of the Western Balkans make good on their promises to reform and fight corruption. And we need civil society to keep the flame of freedom alight.

Just over 100 years ago, Europe and the world were plunged into calamitous war by events in the Balkans. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Bosnia toppled the first domino that would plunge us into two World Wars.

Now let us come full circle and close this dark and bloody chapter of our history—by extending the hand of peace, freedom and friendship that is at the core of our European project.



To go back to the Balkans Peace Initiative Assembly Schedule page, click here.

To go to the World Summit 2020 Schedule page, click here.