On June 16th 2011 at the Central Military Club in Sofia was held an international conference, entitled “Euro-Atlantic Integration of the Western Balkans: Implementing the V4 Experience”. The event was organized by the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria (ACB) in co-operation with the embassies of Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland in Bulgaria and with the support of ICD. It was held on the occasion of the 20th anniversaries from the foundation of the ACB and the Visegrad Group. The aim of the conference was to reaffirm the key importance of regional co-operation in the process of further enlargement of the EU and NATO and to give directions and management recommendations for the countries in the Western Balkans (WB), by using as an example the mutual co-operation between the countries comprising the Visegrad Four (V4). The conference was realized with the special support of the International Visegrad Fund.
The conference speakers were representatives of leading organizations in the field of international relations and civil society organizations from Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as renowned academics, who took part in the program with keynote speeches, debates, and panel discussions. The audience ranged from scholars, civil society practitioners and private sector figures, diplomatic and political representatives, journalists, and other stakeholders, interested in international relations.
The conference was composed of welcome address, three panels, and a summary of the day. The welcome address was given by H.E. Karol Mistrik, Ambassador of the Republic of Slovakia to the Republic of Bulgaria and Dr. Solomon Passy, President of the ACB. According to Dr. Passy there could be a co-operation between them in the field of international politics, security, “Shengen” and the Eurozone, as well as in the nuclear energetics. Dr. Passy pointed out as good news the recommendation of the European Committee for Croatia’s admission to the EU in July 2013 and the conference organized by NATO in Belgrade.
The first panel of the conference was entitled “Euro-Atlantic Integration: Security and Cooperation”.During his speech the former President Dr. Zhelev emphasized on the still low level of co-operation between the Balkan states. According to him an intensification of the co-operation in the field of transport and infrastructure is definitely needed. According to H. E. Plamen Bonchev from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the necessity for membership of these countries in the EU and NATO is undoubtful, but only after they have overcome three groups of challenges: common efforts towards achieving security and stability in the WB and coping with the risk of re-emergence of instability in the region; the changing factors that are located outside the region but exercise strong influence on it - the appearance of new priorities in the foreign policy and the internal dynamics of development in the WB. Ambassador Rastislav Kacer began his statement recommending that history should be used for drawing lessons, but only if people always have in mind that it never judges impartially. Mr. Ivailo Ivanov, the representative of the National Defence Academy "G.S. Rakovski", in the beginning of his speech pointed out that the main disadvantage of the EU is its inability to use force when it needs to, unlike the USA. Therefore, it becomes increasingly difficult for the Union to propagate its principles on larger scale.
The second panel of the conference was entitled “EU integration”. According to Amb. Vacek some of the most important goals that need to be pursued by the Western Balkan countries are: learning from the experience of the Visegrad group members; expanding their participation in EU operations abroad; acquainting themselves with the different traits of the V4 members in the sphere of agriculture, transport and energy policy, etc.
Mrs. Benisheva from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the most important value of the EU is the unity between its members - the better they use the opportunities of their membership, the more they will benefit. Mr. Novak from the Center for International Relations in Poland took the stand that integration is not an outcome, but a constantly evolving process, which is becoming increasingly harder. Pro-modernization and pro-democratization of the WB countries are important but they should be conducted with a vision for to future and not to be an end in itself.
The third panel of the conference was entitled “Sharing the BG/V4 experience: Economic perspective, civil society, development assistance”. According to the Ambassador of Hungary to Bulgaria H. E. Judith Lang, at present the V4 group represents a constructive element within NATO and EU structures and the common efforts of its member-countries have eased the process of admission of new member-states. H. E. Judith Lang expressed her view that economies, which are put together in a single market, function far better than if they are taken separately. According to the sociologist Mr. Antoniy Galabov the Balkans represent a single geographic area but the economic and infrastructural development of the countries there drastically differs when one country is compared to the other. Mr. Galabov stated his view that integration pace in NATO and the EU is being troubled by other difficulties, for example the visible tiredness from the EU enlargement. Mr. Kiril Geratliev from the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works shared the view that Balkan member-countries and candidate-members do prioritize the development of major cities and administrative centers but neglect the improvement of the small and peripheral provinces. The need of intensifying regional co-operation between all EU member-countries was also mentioned. Mr. Pisarski from the Casimir Pulaski Foundation of Poland pointed out that his country not only managed to accomplish its transition from totalitarianism to democracy, but together with the other members of V4 more easily wins the confidence of the populace in the WB countries than the former colonial powers.
A summary of the day was made by the panel moderators, who expressed their hope that the conference will pave the way for a fruitful future co-operation and experience sharing between the V4 members and the WB countries as a first step towards the full membership of the latter in NATO and the EU.