The Czech government is increasingly taking a more pro-active role in the external affairs of the European Union. One of the focal points of Czech interest seems to be the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, especially in relation to consolidating peace in the Balkans. The Special Coordinator of the EU Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, Erhard Busek, visited Prague this week in order to discuss future engagement of the Czech Republic in the Balkans.
Prague will host a meeting of the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe in November of this year, according to the agreement between the Pact Coordinator Erhard Busek and the Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Winkler. Main topics for discussion will include the transformation of the arms industry in the Western Balkans, European integration in the region, and an exchange of experiences from the Czech transition period.
The Stability Pact was founded in 1999 by the European Union, with the goal of promoting regional democracy and peace in Southeastern Europe. It holds two annual meetings, and the fact that the next one will be held in Prague, moving outside the Balkan region for the first time, is considered very important.
Jan Winkler from the Czech Foreign Ministry:
"This has confirmed that the interests and responsibilities are shifting in the direction of the new EU member states."
The Czech Republic has placed the Western Balkans as one of its top foreign policy priorities. According to official figures, during the past five years, the Czech government has spent some CZK 2 billion, an equivalent of $87 million for the renewal of the Western Balkan countries. More than half of that amount was spent on the consolidation of Kosovo, including the Czech military presence in the province as well.
Austrian diplomat Erhard Busek, the current head of the Stability Pact, welcomes and appreciates the involvement of the Czech Republic in the renewal of Southeastern Europe, adding that the region is an attractive opportunity for Czech business:
"The role of the new member countries within the European Union concerning Southeast Europe is an outstanding, positive one. The real reason is, beside all the difficulties and economic limits and limits on budget, they have a kind of empathy for transformation. They know how difficult it is and what experiences they made, and in general we are getting a lot of assistance, especially from the Czech Republic."
But the task lying ahead of them is not an easy one. While Romania and Bulgaria are scheduled to enter the European Union in 2007, the Western Balkan states have to work more than that:
"I think the progress of Croatia is quite impressive, beside the fact of The Hague - that is another question. They will not join the European Union in 2007, but maybe they are not so far off from this date. We are expecting that things are moving in Macedonia, but this has only started. The other countries, besides Albania, are involved in certain internal problems."
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