George A. Papandreou - President of Socialist International - Former Prime Minister
George A. Papandreou - President of Socialist International - Former Prime Minister
You are here: Home Page >   PRIME MINISTER >   Speeches by PM >   Speech at the Annual Conference of Serbian Ambassadors 

Speech at the Annual Conference of Serbian Ambassadors

Belgrade, Serbia, 4 January 2010

George A. Papandreou
George A. Papandreou

Speech by Prime Minister George A. Papandreou at the Annual Conference of Serbia Ambassadors

"Dear Ilica, honourable ladies and gentlemen of the Diplomatic Corps, it is a privilege, an honour and a pleasure to address such a distinguished audience today.

I am very pleased that my visit takes place at such a promising time for Serbia’s European perspective, with its formal application for membership submitted last month, a week after the European Union abolished visas for Serbia, Montenegro and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

So allow me to congratulate you on your collective efforts. All of you have certainly contributed in order to achieve these important milestones.

I hope that 2010 will bring systematic progress towards the common goal we have set: the integration of the Western Balkans into our European family.

And we have already come a long way. In Europe the twentieth century was scarred by a succession of wars, ethnic cleansing and genocide. The end of the Cold War in the 1990s brought a gust of optimism. After the fall of Berlin Wall, there was a common will to unite Europe. Consequently, most of the former Soviet bloc countries of Central and Eastern Europe are now EU members.

The result of integration was greater stability in the region, a spirit of good neighbourliness, new democratic institutions protected by a wider European body of law and support, such as the European Union Council, the Commission, the Parliament and Court, complemented by the Council of Europe and the OSCE.

This created a more stable environment for investment, bringing with it more transparency, larger markets and technical organisational know-how.

I could, of course, be critical of the fact that these changes came at an era when neoliberalism was at its height and the theory that markets will solve everything dominated the thinking of those who came to bring about change in these countries.

This often became overkill and the consequences have been a weaker social welfare state for countries overdependent on outside financing and decision-making in the financial markets.

Even so, living standards did rise, as the shadow of military confrontation and isolation receded, the growth of democratic institutions put controls of authoritarianism and uprooted former bureaucratic and often corrupt power structures.

On the contrary, the benefits of these changes were not equally felt in the Western Balkans, as if a new and different wall was erected here separating the region from the rest of the European Union.

As a result, stability was shaky, unresolved issues continued to fester, and economic progress seemed to falter.

A region – and I would include the wider Balkan area – which after the Cold War seemed not to be able to close the cycle of instability and sometimes even the cycle of extreme violence.

As Yugoslavia was wrenched apart, as borders began to divide populations into different ethnic groups, as the concept of ethnically clean states took hold, often accepted by the outside world, often violently pursued by the leaderships of the new nations that were being formed, we witnessed a reversal of what Europe was all about: the capability to live together in peace, respecting borders, while at the same time respecting the human democratic rights of all ethnic groups living within these borders.

And I happen to have lived through some of the important moments of a last chapter of the major violence in the region. Only ten years ago, NATO bombs rained on Belgrade, following the terrible events that took place in Kosovo.

I remember being, I believe, the last foreign minister to meet with Milosevic before the bombing began. I remember walking into the presidential mansion. Richard Holbrooke was walking out, down the stairs. We exchanged a few words. I had a long meeting then with Milosevic.

I then visited Belgrade and Milosevic and the bombarded areas the day after the war, immediately after the war was over. During the time of the war, I had travelled the world over, from Washington to Moscow, from Bonn and Brussels to China, visiting many neighbouring countries and capitals: Skopje, Tirana, Sofia and others, in order to make sure that this war would end as soon as possible and that the consequences would be contained and even possibly reversed.

Greece’s policy, which I represented, was threefold: help, work with all in and outside the Balkans to contain and alleviate the humanitarian crisis.

I say that because my first contact as Foreign Minister with my Turkish counterpart, Ismail Cem, was concerning the war in Kosovo. CNN and the BBC had just presented the possibility of war between Turkey and Greece over Kosovo, as one of the basic reasons for the military intervention of NATO.

I immediately called up Ismail Cem and asked him if he thought Greece and Turkey were to go to war over Kosovo. He said, “Certainly not.” That was our first contact.

And we agreed to make a common demarche in NATO, saying that this was not at all something we could contemplate.

So dealing with the humanitarian crisis, as a first priority, was also linked to avoiding the conflict spilling over to new areas. And we know in the Balkans how that can happen.

But I also saw this as a vehicle, a possible vehicle, in this crisis, as maybe a new basis for common action and better understanding between our countries in the region, which hopefully could create a new sense out of this crisis of solidarity amongst the Balkan peoples.

A second priority of our policy then was to work with all in the neighbourhood to bring a halt to the war as soon as possible, to develop a momentum in and around the Balkans, so that we could articulate a roadmap to a ceasefire and finally a peace agreement.

You may remember Greece and the Czech Republic called for a truce.

We in the region – and this is the third point concerning our policy – we in the region, we felt, had to work for a different future, to work on a common project for South East Europe, one that stated that we must end the cycle of instability, and we must do so by living up to our responsibilities to each other in this region.

So we worked and formulated a Stability Pact, one of reconstruction, one of growth, one we in the Balkans understood could only be realised if two conditions were met:

First of all, that we start talking in the Balkans with one voice. Rather than looking for our respective patrons and protectors, we take our own fate and future into our hands and face the international community with a common plan.

Yet – and this is the second point – we could only do so if the international world also began to see us, in a unified way, as a region.

We needed to convince them or create an environment which would not allow the great powers, or whatever were the powers that be, to play us against each other.

We should go beyond representing a protector and, as all in the international community, to respect this by helping us shape a comprehensive policy on stability and growth and reconstruction in the region, one which would include us all.

We should stop being the small change of the big deals between the super- or the great powers.

We understood that to do so it was crucial, it was crucial to link this longer-term prospect of stability and cooperation with a common project, our common European future, a future based on common principles, common values, common institutions, common economic development, which would become the glue keeping us together.

Our project was to become a new peace project for our peoples, but also for all of Europe.

That is why my last visit to Belgrade before Milosevic left power, just before the elections, was to bring a European message. I had just come from Evian, where we, the foreign ministers of the European Union, had met in our traditional Gymnich meetings.

We had a long discussion about the upcoming elections and the future of your country. I made the plea, and I was supported by Hubert Vedrine, then presiding the EU General Affairs Council, that we must send a positive message to the people of Yugoslavia.

I received the tacit agreement of the European Union, and I left Evian and came directly to Belgrade.

I met with both Mr. Milosevic and Mr. Kostunica. I also then had the chance to meet for the first time with Vuc. It was quite an adventurous meeting.

My message, our message, was clear: Serbia or then Yugoslavia belongs to Europe. And Europe had no right whatsoever to deny you this future. There could be no prejudice against the Serbs. The Serbs, as so many other peoples in the region, had the right to hope and work for a European future.

And as a matter of fact, Europe would welcome a democratic Yugoslavia as part of the European family. But this was a decision that first and foremost the Serbs themselves would have to make.

This was a message I publicly and privately brought to you and the leaders of the country. And I hope this simple message helped democracy make its first and crucial steps here.

Yes, I am convinced that the full integration of the Balkans into the European and Euro-Atlantic structures is the surest way to consolidate security and stability and to achieve economic and social development.

I am also speaking from a wider European experience, and our experience. In the twentieth century, Greece lived through occupations, a bloody civil war and a brutal junta.

Even though I could be critical of the European Union in many areas, from the need for a more social Europe, for a stronger foreign and defence policy, for greater investment in education and innovation, for more participation of our citizens in decision-making,
Greece has benefited from the European Union in many ways: from the Structural Funds to the infrastructure, to the stability in the region, to financial stability in a time of crisis such as the one Greece is facing now.

Greece’s own experience, but our common history in the region, from times of peace to times of conflict: That is what informs our vision for the Western Balkans. It is a vision that the Western Balkans have a rightful place within the European Union.

Greece furthered this goal and demonstrated its commitment to this purpose during our 2003 European Union presidency, again when I was Foreign Minister, and the fruits of our efforts culminated with the Thessaloniki Declaration, which stated unequivocally that the future of the Western Balkans is within the European Union.

The results of our initiative speak for themselves. Since 2003, two Balkan states have become fully fledged EU members, two Western Balkan states have obtained candidate status, Serbia has become one of the countries that have officially applied for membership, while all other countries of the region have been institutionally connected to the European Union in one way or another.

In recent months, all the nations of the Western Balkans have moved closer to the European Union and to NATO.

However, a number of factors have conspired over these past six years to weaken the Thessaloniki Agenda. An identity crisis within the European Union, the global economic crisis, unresolved issues here in our region, these coupled with the enlargement fatigue and the absorption capacity have dampened discussions about further European integration.

So we must now allow these issues to undermine the progress of the Western Balkans or to inhibit integration efforts.

It is now that we need to reload the enlargement process and reinvigorate the European perspective of the Western Balkans.

On the one hand, create a strong consensus within the Western Balkans, a spirit of new cooperation, speaking with a unified voice, and on the other hand create new momentum within the European Union.

And I know the European Union has both the tools and the means to help and to guide our whole region, our neighbours, on their path to the European integration.

The European Union can demonstrate true leadership and can demonstrate real commitment that promises eventual full membership for this region.

That is why we have proposed the Agenda 2014, a new roadmap for the region.

Our aim is clear: to reinvigorate the process, by setting 2014 as a target for the accession of the Western Balkans into the European Union. To create a new dynamic, both for the EU institutions and members, as well as the countries of Southeastern Europe.

For many, this is an obvious date. The European Community was launched in the aftermath of two World Wars, as an antidote to the wars that started on our continent.

So we are saying a hundred years after the outbreak of the First World War, in June 1914 in Sarajevo, it is high time we close the cycle of instability.

The peoples of the Balkans deserve a future of security and prosperity, and we are ready to achieve these goals.

On the other hand, unfortunately for us, the Balkans has so far failed to shake off its reputation as a powder keg or an unstable area of Europe. Poised between East and West, the Balkans is the great European crossroads of cultures, traditions nationalities and religions.

As we all know only too well, this rich diversity can unleash enormous creativity, even prosperity, or it can be exploited, exploited by leaders and extremists to trigger violent conflict.

When nation-states were carved out of a region that for centuries had no national borders, these dividing lines were often drawn in blood.

We need to make more concerted efforts to settle unresolved disputes, the unfinished business, which has too often dragged our region backwards instead of pushing it forward.

Investing in peace is a negligible price to pay, compared to immeasurable cost of war.

Let’s not forget that more than 100,000 people died as a result of wars in our region during the 1990s, and we cannot allow this to happen again.

However, this history, rather than being the excuse for those reluctant to have the Western Balkans in Europe, should be in fact the basis the raison d’être of integration, to make sure that our region is incorporated into this family of common values.

This is the insurance policy for stability. It can and will become the new chapter of European success in creating peace and prosperity.

But this means we all must do our part, in a responsible and effective way.

Greece aspires to be the driving force behind Agenda 2014, inspiring our partners in the European Union and our neighbours in the Balkans to step up to this challenge.

The target date of 2014 is certainly, undeniably ambitious, but is also feasible. It is ambitious because difficult decisions are required by hopeful candidate countries. They must demonstrate real political will to implement the necessary reforms and meet all obligations before they are welcomed into the European Union.

The road towards the European Union is not a one-way street, it is a challenging journey whose successful completion requires a genuine commitment to democracy, rule of law, the protection of human rights and of course good neighbourly relations and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

To be honest, progress has so far not always been up to par. Efforts need to be stepped up, particularly with regard to corruption, organised crime, illegal migration, inefficient infrastructures and black markets.

But the 2014 target is also feasible because much has already been accomplished, and a new momentum can speed up both reform and change.

Regional cooperation is already a reality, with a number of active political and economic institutions in place. We have much potential to further strengthen this regional cooperation.

Again, I must stress: The international community is not a deus ex machina. We must take our fate into our hands, in order to realise the enormous potential of our region.

It is up to us to help ourselves. This is an all-important message.

We must put forward common infrastructure and energy projects, with emphasis on renewable energy and water management.

We must become leaders in green development. And in many ways, the backwardness of some of our infrastructures could become an opportunity to leapfrog to a new development model: that of the green economy, one that ensures competitiveness, sustainability and quality of life for our peoples.

These projects can go hand in hand with a planned, coordinated and comprehensive regional development policy, so that our infrastructure is modern and sustainable. It also must promote capital investments and a strong welfare state.

Greece promotes these goals through the Hellenic Plan for the Economic Reconstruction of the Balkans, which aims to integrate fragmented initiatives and projects into an overarching policy framework.

All these joint initiatives will enhance regional security and stability. But we in the Balkans also need to assume a more constructive role in dealing effectively with regional tensions.

Coercion, threats, hostile rhetoric have no place in today’s Europe. And this rhetoric will not help us help ourselves take our own fate into our own hands.

We will be neighbours, continue to be neighbours with each other, today and tomorrow.

So hostile rhetoric only sows more problems for tomorrow’s solutions.

We must, however, also utilise the new European security architecture. It is undergoing a process of transformation, with the ratification of Lisbon Treaty, as well as the Corfu Process recently launched under Greece’s presidency of the OSCE.

The countries of the Western Balkans should make full use of the existing bilateral agreements and other institutional frameworks.

Their active participation in the Common Security and Defence Policy will also bring them closer to the European Union.

While we are all Balkans, we each have our special identity, our special problems and our special challenges. So each country must follow responsibly its own path of reforms and transformations.

The future of Kosovo is an extremely thorny and complicated question, which has polarised the international community.

We fully appreciate the sensitivity of Serbia on this issue.

Kosovo epitomises the conflict between two fundamental principles of international law: territorial integrity and self-determination.

From the outset, Greece has supported diplomacy and consensual solutions, on the basis of international legality and respect for the fundamental principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

This is why Greece supported Serbia’s request to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice, which hopefully will shed light on the legal aspects of this issue.

At the same time, we must look forward. We must not allow Kosovo to become a source of further conflict in the heart of Europe. We must ensure a secure environment and raise the living standards for all residents of Kosovo, regardless of their ethnic origin and religious beliefs. We must protect the cultural heritage. The international presence remains crucial in this regard.

Greece will spare no efforts to preserve the status neutral approach, which has been embraced by all international actors, including the United Nations, the European Union and NATO.

For Bosnia-Herzegovina, the European prospect is key for stability, unity and reconstruction. All political forces must seek to achieve political consensus on a national strategy that will set the country firmly on a European track.

Regarding the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, I am not going to tire you with a detailed presentation of the name problem, which you all know very well.

Let me just stress that the name issue is not merely a bilateral spat over historical symbols, as some commentators have tried to suggest. It is historically an issue that was linked with the fundamental issue of irredentism, a problem so many have faced in the region, which could have serious ramifications for the concept of territorial integrity, national sovereignty and security of our wider region, if it is not resolved.

You also have felt the full brunt of threats to territorial integrity.

We Greeks have always been proud to have other nations and peoples share or identify with our common values, our monuments or our cultural heritage, as long as this is not done in order to legitimise irredentist or territorial aspirations.

So we are trying to reach a win-win compromise. We have done our part by accepting a compound name including the term Macedonia, but with a geographical qualifier which would make a clear distinction with Greek Macedonia, a name to be used for every purpose, erga omnes.

We are looking for a comprehensive solution that will leave no grey areas and potential sources of friction.

And we expect the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to meet us halfway.

This will settle a significant regional problem and will clear the way of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia towards the European Union and NATO.

Handling these complex issues will be critical, critical for the future not only of the Balkans but for Europe as a whole.

The alternative to integration could be disintegration. That’s why we need to take courageous and far-sighted decisions that put collective good above short-sighted national interests.

This might seems like a politically risky strategy, but in the long run it will pay off.

Again, Greece is a good case in point. When the previous PASOK government launched a process of rapprochement with Turkey a decade ago, we initially faced a vicious backlash.

I was personally accused by some populists of being a traitor to my own country. This was, of course, alarmist rhetoric.

Ten years on, our policy of rapprochement has been vindicated, and it has helped that it has been done within an EU framework.

The majority of Greeks now recognise that the integration of Turkey into the European Union is in their interests, in our interests, because having a stable, democratic partner as a neighbour is good for Greece and is good for Europe.

At the same time, our bilateral disputes are being addressed through the European framework.

In this context, Turkey needs to provide tangible proof of respect for the principle of good neighbourliness and the peaceful settlement of disputes, and take positive steps towards a settlement of the Cyprus issue.

In Cyprus, as in so many other conflict zones, the past overshadows the promise of a brighter future.

Our task is to build solid political frameworks and regional alliances that will enable a different future, free from fear.

As leaders, we must have the courage to embrace change. We need to abandon a zero-sum mentality. We need to build consensus, through dialogue, through cooperation.

The secret to building good relations among nations is trust, trust through understanding, understanding our interests and understanding our responsibilities to each other. Understanding the positions, the concerns and the needs of the other.

In today’s diplomacy, unlike the Cold War, people power or people’s diplomacy is becoming more important.

It can either be exploited by whipping up hatred and fears, or it can be a force, a force of peace building in a positive way, turning frustration, fear and fragmentation into common causes that bring mutual benefits.

So I believe that our regional cooperation must also be an investment in the meeting of our citizens, of our peoples, of our countries, in a way where we can learn from each other, where our societies can learn from each other, where we can learn from our past heritage but also build a common future.

And in the current context of global interdependence, nation-states are increasingly incapable of tackling transnational challenges, such a climate change, mass migration, poverty or organised crime. We cannot do so alone.

There are no winners and losers, when dealing with problems that transcend borders. We will lose, unless we act together.

With global governance still in its infancy, as we saw from the disappointing outcome of the Copenhagen summit, regional alliances are increasing important to forge common solutions to common problems.

It also highlights what I believe is the new role for the European Union, the new role, as it develops over the next few years.

If we in the European Union were a peace project for the continent after the two World Wars, we now can and must become an example for democratic global governance.

An example of how sovereign states cooperate, and cooperate so closely, even handing over some part of the sovereignty, but we also cooperate democratically, respecting each other, so as to tackle transnational problems.

This is what Copenhagen highlighted, as our new global institutional challenge. And Europe here can play a role, both for global institutions but also for our peoples, in dealing with these global issues.

Ladies and gentlemen, in Europe we are gradually building a federation of nation-states that I firmly hope and believe will soon embrace the Western Balkans.

The history of this vibrant city, Belgrade, is intrinsically linked to the formation of modern Europe, and its destiny can be none other than European.

Just as the currents are strongest where the estuaries of two great rivers meet, so too are the political and cultural currents strongest situated in the midst of ethnic diversity.

We belong to perhaps the most ethnically and culturally diverse region. Yet we have so much that unites us.

A region with vast potential that has been crippled by successive conflicts throughout its history.

Let us make this diversity our competitive advantage. Let us make these diversities a potential for education and creativity that frees us, frees us to deal with a new and common challenge, the new and common challenges at hand, both in the region and in the world around, and not make it a fate or a karma that imprisons us in the conflicts of the past.

This requires strength, strength of leadership and leadership for change.

In March 2003, Serbia lost one of its most determined and dynamic campaigners for change. Zoran Djindjic, whom I knew, took on the courageous task of introducing radical economic and political reforms. He dared to stand up to an entrenched establishment that had its hand in war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

Djindjic paid for his political courage with his life. We owe it to his memory to vigorously pursue the reforms which he initiated.

And I know that your present government is doing its best to continue important changes in a very courageous way.

Boris Tadic is committed to Serbia’s European future. He and his government have made crucial decisions that are moving your country forward. He has also won two elections, showing that Serbian democracy is well and alive.

And I myself have worked closely with him previously, as head of the Socialist International, and I am looking forward to working closely with him, as Prime Minister of Greece, for our common goals.

And our message, the message of Greece, is simple but important. We must not forget our history. We must always cherish it. But we cannot let it imprison us.

We need to work to learn from our history, to develop a common and peaceful future, a better future. And the future of this region, the future of the Balkans, the future of Serbia, lies in our European family in the European Union.

On this path, Greece will be your most reliable partner and a true friend. Thank you very much for your attention."

Page Top
Home Page | Who Is | Credits | Terms of Use | Privacy Statement | Contact