U.S.-EU Unfinished Business in the Balkans

William J. Burns
Under Secretary for Political Affairs 
Croatia Summit 2011
Dubrovnik, Croatia
July 8, 2011

As prepared for delivery

President Josipovic, Prime Minister Kosor, honored guests, thank you for inviting me to speak in the wonderful city of Dubrovnik. I am very pleased to be here, with Senator Begich, to participate in this important event.

I know that a number of my colleagues, including former Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and Assistant Secretary Phil Gordon, have found this forum a unique opportunity to engage with regional leaders and I look forward to discussions with colleagues throughout the next two days. Even as we face so many challenges elsewhere in the world, the Obama Administration has a particular and enduring attachment to the Balkans, and the United States remains deeply committed to helping this region achieve our common goals.

I am especially glad to have the opportunity to celebrate with you 20 years of Croatian independence and your tremendous June 30th success in meeting the requirements to accede to the European Union. You, the leadership and people of Croatia, deserve enormous credit for meeting the exacting criteria of the European Union. The United States has supported you through every step of this process and I hope you will not mind if we take some pride in your accomplishment.

I’d also like to congratulate the European Commission for its vision, patience and persistence in opening the doors of the EU to the countries of the Western Balkans and assisting them through the process. Croatia will soon be the newest member of the EU, but we eagerly await the day when the remaining countries of the region are able to join as well and we stand ready to assist them. Drawing on its successful experience, Croatia can and I am sure will play a special role in supporting the efforts of neighboring countries to join the EU and NATO.

All of the countries of the Western Balkans have committed themselves to the European project. All are agreed that European and Euro-Atlantic integration represent the best path forward for the region. In our view, until the process of European integration has brought all of the countries of the region into the fold, the vision of a Europe whole, free, democratic and at peace will remain unrealized. Whether you are a NATO member, a NATO candidate, or a member of Partnership for Peace, we look forward to partnering with you in addressing the full range of security challenges that the twenty-first century presents. On that note, we thank Croatia for your contributions to our common struggle in the world’s most challenging battlefield, Afghanistan.

Croatia’s success demonstrates that progress that can be made, albeit with hard work and sacrifice, to advance the interests of the region’s citizens. The momentum that comes with this transition for Croatia should be encouraged and cultivated throughout the region. It will be important for Croatia to continue working with neighbors to resolve outstanding regional issues such as missing persons, refugees and disputed boundaries. In Croatia’s current success, I think we can all see future opportunities for this region.

Another important lesson is that this success was reached only after Croatia and Slovenia found a way to address a contentious bilateral issue through negotiation and compromise. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Pahor and Prime Minister Kosor, they resolved their differences the European and the modern way, which we hope will be a model for the entire region as it moves along the path of Euro-Atlantic integration.

We also admire and support the efforts of President Josipovic and Prime Minister Kosor to reach out to former adversaries. You and your Serbian colleague President Tadic have shown great courage in making a firm commitment to resolve the issues resulting from a war that wrought terrible destruction and caused the displacement of a quarter million people. I am even more encouraged by the bold approach you have taken in the battles against corruption and organized crime. You have created a legislative and political framework that enables prosecutors to do their jobs without fear or favor, and to go after corruption at the highest levels of government. This, too, has sent a message throughout the region that the days of impunity are numbered and the balance of power is shifting in favor of the rule of law. As we know from our own experience in the United States, the fight against corruption is a never ending battle and the safeguarding of democracy requires constant vigilance. Thus we count on Croatia to maintain an undiminished commitment to the cause of reform in the years to come.

We also recognize your efforts in helping your neighbor, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Because we are deeply invested in peace and justice in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United States strongly stands by the Dayton Agreement and we remain committed to helping Bosnia and Herzegovina succeed.

Nine months after its national elections, there is still no state government in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are deeply disappointed, like all of you, that elected leaders continue to put personal, political, and sectarian interests above the national interest and the best interests of their citizens. The international community is prepared to help, but this effort cannot succeed unless the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s parties display the courage to put the interests of the people ahead of their pride and their fears.

We will strongly oppose challenges to the Dayton Agreement and rhetoric that advocates Republika Srpska independence or secession for the Republika Srpska. Republika Srpska is a constituent part of Bosnia and Herzegovina and secession or independence is inconsistent with the Dayton Agreement. We support robust entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the decentralized government structure established in the Dayton Agreement, but moves toward or even threats of secession set back prospects for European integration and destabilize the neighborhood. We welcome efforts by the EU and Croatia to focus Bosnia and Herzegovina’s leaders on the steps needed to realize their country’s European future.

I applaud President Tadic for the impressive strides Serbia has made toward EU accession and for his efforts to reform its judiciary and combat organized crime. The recent arrest of Ratko Mladic speaks volumes about Serbia’s commitment to justice. It was individuals – not nations – who committed the horrible crimes of the 1990s, and it is individuals – not nations – who must be held accountable. We await the arrest of the last remaining at-large Yugoslav war crimes indictee, Goran Hadzic; with him facing justice in The Hague, Serbia will have met its remaining obligations to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Continued cooperation with the Tribunal, when coupled with further progress on internal reforms, will make Serbia a strong candidate for the European Union. In this regard, we applaud President Tadic’s attendance last year at the 15th anniversary ceremonies for the victims of the genocide at Srebrenica and his visit this week to Sarajevo to promote regional cooperation.

But Serbia also faces unique challenges in joining the European Union. Serbia needs to find a way to come to terms with the reality of Kosovo. It is inconsistent with EU standards for Belgrade to maintain a force of security officials within Kosovo, in violation of the UN Security Council’s resolution 1244. It is inconsistent with EU standards, and with the Central European Free Trade Agreement signed by Serbia, to prevent the export of goods from Kosovo.

The United States strongly supports the EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, and welcomes the first agreements reached. Both sides have indicated a willingness to discuss practical solutions that can improve the lives of everyone in Kosovo, a goal that brings benefits to the people of both Serbia and Kosovo. We applaud the recent agreements reached by Serbian and Kosovar negotiators on resolving freedom of movement and civil registry issues. The United States Government supports the view taken by a number of EU member states, that if Serbia is to advance on EU candidacy this year, the dialogue should first produce positive results – not only in the technical issues under discussion but also on issues pertaining to the north of Kosovo. Northern Kosovo cannot be allowed to develop into a frozen conflict. The people of northern Kosovo deserve to live in a place where government provides services, where their rights and property are respected and where they can build a future for their children—no matter what their ethnicity.

In order to join Croatia in its European future, Serbia should continue to join with the region in reconciling itself with its past and adapting to the present. For centuries, Serbs have lived in every corner of this Balkan Peninsula. And for centuries, dozens of other ethnic groups have lived within Serbia. Like every other state in the region, Serbia is capable of functioning as a multi-ethnic democracy, respecting the democratic and cultural rights of every ethnic group in its territory. And like every other ethnic group in the region, Serbs must be able to enjoy their democratic and cultural rights in whatever state they live, while respecting the sovereignty of that state. This is the reality of twenty-first century Europe -- it is one of the founding principles of the European Union and a core element of the European zone of peace. Assertions that Serbs cannot live a free and normal life in independent Kosovo call into question the capability of the entire region, including Serbia, to function as multi-ethnic democracies.

Let’s be clear: there is simply no possible way for borders in this region to be re-drawn along ethnically clean lines. If such a process is set in motion, there is no way that it can be confined to a single boundary line in the Balkans, and there is no way that it can end peacefully. Any rhetoric calling for the partition of Kosovo and questioning the ability of people of different ethnicities to live together is harmful to regional reconciliation and will not advance Serbia’s strategic goal of European integration. Let us be equally clear that the United States stands strongly behind a commitment to multi-ethnic societies and respect for cultural rights.

This principle applies to Kosovo as well. It has a considerable way to go to realize its aspiration of EU membership, but its social and democratic progress in three years since independence has been dramatic. Kosovo’s sad recent history does not, of course, grant it automatic admission to Europe, but with our continuing support. It needs to do the hard work of nation-building. Kosovo has strengthened its democratic credentials during the past year, weathering a series of constitutional crises and emerging a stronger democracy as a result. Kosovo is tackling its economic reform agenda, but like other post-socialist societies, is struggling to wean its people off of a strong central government. Kosovo should of course match its spending to its means and we look to its leadership to continue to take the hard decisions necessary to secure the country’s economic future.

But although the hardest task falls to regional actors, outside actors, including the United States, also have important responsibilities in integrating the Western Balkans into Europe. I cannot think of a time in our diplomatic history when the United States worked so effectively with our European Union colleagues, both with the Commission and bilaterally. This is a demonstration of our commitment to a joint effort in attending to Europe’s “unfinished business” in the Balkans. As we support Europe’s post-Lisbon structures, we will continue to forge a constructive U.S.-EU partnership on the Western Balkans. Our mutual commitment to the same goal is unwavering – full participation of all the countries of the Western Balkans in European institutions.

The United States is committed to working with the region and our EU partners to develop the enormous potential and promise of the Balkans. Across the region, the United States invests politically and financially in supporting this challenging work -- from events such as the Brown Forum, held here in Dubrovnik in April, that addressed ways to build economic partnerships and increase the attractiveness of the region as an investment destination, to working with political parties and civil society across Bosnia and Herzegovina as they seek to overcome debilitating differences and build consensus in their country. We will continue to do so. We believe strongly in the power that comes with regional cooperation on issues of importance to all, whether that is combating organized crime, attracting foreign investment, or improving the region’s transportation and infrastructure. We all need to do more to promote regional cooperation and integration as the cornerstones of a stronger and more prosperous future for the region.

To this end, we, as international partners with keen interests in the region, must continue our strong engagement with the region, and must be committed to maintaining our assistance to the countries of the region. So, again, I applaud Croatia on the aptly chosen topic of this summit, “Finalizing the Transition.” I look forward to the discussions that will explore how we can all work together to enhance the political, economic and civil reforms started in the region to bring all the countries of the region to their European future and much-deserved peace and prosperity. And I look forward very much to working with all of you in the months and years ahead.