Ambassador Philip Reeker, U.S. State Department Official from the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, stated that the USA were committed to the full integration of the Western Balkans in the EU.
There is no better time than this to reaffirm this commitment, said Reeker who was one of the main speakers at the 2BS Forum and added that the Western Balkan countries were on the right path to accomplish that.
We have the reasons to be optimistic. We see how far Northern Macedonia has come, we recognize dedication to integration when it comes to people in this region and our collective interest is to strengthen these aspirations, Reeker said.
Our vision, the US vision is a stable region, peaceful and integrated in the EU, Reeker said, emphasizing that the strong Balkans implies more stable Europe.
The most important thing that I see is that the Western Balkan countries articulated these aspirations, they brought decisions themselves and we are just helping them to achieve it. We believe that the countries themselves are capable to solve the problems and debatable issues together, Reeker emphasized.
He gave a recognition to many countries in the region, such as Albania and Northern Macedonia, Croatia that presided the EU, showing that they were mature enough to assume the responsibility. As a great sign of encouragement that the things in the region are improving, Reeker mentioned the conciliatory tones which could be heard in Croatia from the Prime Minister Plenkovic and which also contribute to easing the national tensions and reconciliation. He commended the election in Mostar, which were encouraged by the USA and the EU.
The Freedom House report that characterized the situation in Serbia and Montenegro as a hybrid regime caused a certain level of concern, as he said. It is a serious step back in comparison to the situation before.
He expressed gratitude to new Prime Minister of Montenegro Zdravko Krivokapic who is ensuring us that the European and Euro-Atlantic future of Montenegro cannot be put into question. Our partner is the people of Montenegro and we have a continuity of good cooperation through a range of administrations.
Ambassador Reeker assessed that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina must continue, that their potential was not exploited yet. He emphasized the efforts of the USA and EU that Bulgaria gave up on blocking the Northern Macedonia in the accession process and that Skopje could not be blocked, especially after the full commitment to the reforms. We are committed to the resolving of bilateral issues, out of the accession process.
Reeker said that newly elected US President Joe Biden perfectly knew the situation in the region, that he visited it, frequently hosted the local leaders and was familiar with the situation in the Western Balkans. I cannot tell what kind of moves the new administration will make, but I know that there is a continuity of all administrations regardless of their political spectrum when it comes to the fact that the Western Balkans needs to have European future.
He illustrated the claim that Europe as well perceived the Balkans as its part with the amount of aid that the EU and NATO directed towards the countries in the region during the Covid-19 pandemic. Not a single country would be able to provide it itself.
Reeker warned to the fact that particular countries such as Russia could accept the Euro-Atlantic future of the region.
Russia does not realize that this is a choice of the citizens, it is not imposed upon them. Unlike Russia, China is striving to buy the loyalty of the citizens, investing in the infrastructural projects, energetic systems and trying this way to open the doors to its influence, Reeker said.
As long as Moscow is opposing to the commitment of the citizens this strongly, the EU needs to make an effort and do all in its power to help democracy in the region be cemented.
Reeker had a message for the Western Balkans citizens that they should start making history instead of being burdened by it.
Our vision remains the same through different administrations, democratic countries of the Balkans, with responsible authorities that serve to its citizens, Reeker concluded.