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Intervention of H.E. Stjepan Mesic at the April 2022 Balkans Leadership Conference

Dear ladies and gentlemen, distinguished participants and organizers of the conference, I greet you all.

It is my honor to speak on this important international forum whose goal is strengthening the economic cooperation and stability between the South-Eastern European Countries, which I have always strongly championed.

The economic cooperation between the Balkan countries is the key to economic progress. Unfortunately, it depends on political decisions and peace, not only within the region but also in Europe and globally.

Nowadays, we clearly see the power of politics compared to the power of the economy in the war in Ukraine. Even if this war is not the main conference topic, it can also have a profound negative influence on stability and the region's economic development and beyond. We see the images of devastation, destruction, and losses of innocent lives on our TVs every day. Everyone who respects international law has to help maintain the peace in Ukraine as soon as possible.

South-Eastern Europe recovered from the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic faster than expected, but the prices of food and energy rose. That means that the recovery was weak. Now we have a new inflation pressure and geopolitical events that can threaten the economic recovery of South-Eastern Europe.

The region's economy is faced with the costs of sanctions imposed on Russia, which are pressuring the whole of Europe, but the less developed countries suffer more. These consequences could be catastrophic if the EU doesn't offer totally new economic measures and various subventions, which would immediately help all the countries that don't have economic power for such collective punishments.

The consequences of the Covid19 pandemic and the sanctions imposed on Russia could be felt for decades. We see three disturbing trends: further growth of inflation, loss of the market, investors, tourists, and lowering ambition in sustainable development and green development. The cost of defense is growing, we are again starting to use coal and nuclear energy, and economic discrepancies between individuals deepen.

The region has to use every opportunity to stop such trends. As a region, we must work together to secure not to be behind even more, but also to search for long-lasting development assistance from the EU.

A month ago, the European Commission presented an important investment package worth 3.2 billion euros to support 21 projects in infrastructure connections, digital technology, climate issues, and energy in the Western Balkans. I am worried about implementing these projects in a situation in which the EU has started to redefine its priorities and rules in its accession policy and allocation of the funds for development. Hopefully, the EU won't give up on the Western Balkans; even it led to a politics described as "We don't give up on the Balkans, but we still don't want it."

I am worried about the fact that the EU expects the powers outside Europe to maintain peace in Europe. The EU has the responsibility to work on a quick political agreement to maintain the peace in Ukraine, because the war only left a heritage of economic paralysis and helplessness. Nowadays, the question of Europe's future depends on the EU's ability to initiate policies of the imposition of peace, along with the UN.

Stability in our region depends on this, which is seen from some analytics as a space in which the war is possibly spilling from Ukraine. I don't believe in such outcomes, but there is a slight danger because of the geopolitical ideas of the Republic of Srpska leaders about the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

History has shown us hundreds of times that wars don't have a winner, and peace doesn't have a looser, which is why I believe that all of you present here share my message that we have to strengthen those powers that are championing peace.

Thank you for your attention.

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