Distinguished President Moisiu, Your Excellencies
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
It is my great honour and pleasure to have the opportunity to participate in this important Conference and convey warm greetings from President Vujanović, the Chairman of the Podgorica Club.
At the very beginning, let me congratulate Albania and North Macedonia on opening EU accession negotiations. It is clear that all the countries of the Western Balkans aspire to EU integration, but also it is evident that the process is going slowly. Due to a combination of geostrategic circumstances, Montenegro has a historic chance to accelerate its Euro-Atlantic path. However, instead of focusing all its energy to fulfil the European agenda and get final benchmarks for Chapters 23 and 24, the new Government’s priority was to sign the contract with the Serbian Church from Belgrade. I am concerned that it will further divide the society and cause political crisis, which will result in slowing down Montenegro's European path.
The long-term process of European integration of the Western Balkans leaves additional room for all those actors that want to destabilize the region and stop the process of democratization of our countries. Here I refer to Russia and organized criminal groups, which “keep the sea rough” because they swim best in it. That is why the EU's active role and commitment to the Western Balkans is extremely important, because there is no doubt that Russia will know how to use any European weakness.
It is not possible to talk about peace and stability in the Western Balkans in the light of European integration, without referring to the great and positive role of NATO. We have witnessed the recent incidents in B&H and Kosovo and have seen how little conflicts need to escalate. I don't even want to think what would happen if we didn't have the presence of EU and NATO forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. For the stability of the region, it is crucial to keep credible EUFOR and KFOR forces, which can effectively respond to possible security threats, because this has been proven to be the best deterrent mechanism.
NATO and the EU’s common resolve in responding to Russia’s war against Ukraine highlights the strength of this unique and essential partnership. We need such an approach in our region as well, because the preventive synergistic and coordinated action of the EU and NATO has a decisive effect on the stability of our region.
Also, it is very important to cooperate with Serbia and B&H through NATO’s Partnership for Peace program and active participation of all the Western Balkans’ countries, including Kosovo, in various security initiatives, as well as to strengthen defence cooperation. Joint trainings, exercises and participation in missions will contribute to better understanding, restoration of trust and improvement of interoperability. By implementing the new EU’s Strategic Compass and the new NATO Strategic Concept, there will be space opened for joint participation in the EU or NATO Battle Groups and in various missions and activities. The countries of the Western Balkans must find an adequate place there, and joint performance is more than welcome.
The Covid 19 crisis and the war in Ukraine have shown the insufficient resilience of our region, as well as the whole Europe to respond to many challenges. We need to enhance our resilience to respond to cyber and hybrid threats, and strengthen our interoperability and energy security.
Our region is constantly exposed to malicious cyber activities and with the help of NATO and through the EU integration process we must build and exercise the virtual rapid response cyber capability.
Just as the accession of Albania, North Macedonia and Montenegro improved the security of our region, the accession of Finland and Sweden will make it safer, NATO stronger, and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure. Furthermore, it will contribute to better cooperation between NATO and the EU. Confirmation of NATO's open door policy at the summit in Madrid may be one more reason for some countries of the Western Balkans to reconsider their security policy and finally take the right track.