In follow up to the EU Programme for the Prevention of violent Conflicts endorsed by the European Council at Goteborg, the Greek Presidency convened a seminar in Athens on 5 & 6 May 2003 on lessons in conflict prevention learned from the Western Balkans. This seminar was jointly organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy and the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeastern Europe.
The meeting was attended by representatives of the EU member states, acceding states, candidate countries and other potential partners, as well as by EU institutions, representatives from governments in the region, international organizations (UN, NATO, OSCE, Council of Europe) and NGOs active in the region.
The Athens meeting has built on the dialogue for closer cooperation which opened in Helsinborg.
The purpose of the meeting was to evaluate the role of the European Union, working with its partners to prevent further violent conflict and draw the necessary conclusions so as to produce a more efficient engagement in the Western Balkans and beyond.
These conclusions could contribute to the preparation of the Thessaloniki European Council as well as to the EU- W. Balkans Summit.
The EU is now playing a leading role in the Balkans, is a central factor of stability and reform in the area and has contributed significantly to reducing the risk of further violent conflict in the region. But the situation remains fragile.
As the EU Presidency's programme stresses, the W. Balkans is a high priority of the E.U. The European perspective of those countries should be strengthened. Time is ripe to move from stabilisation to integration. The Stabilisation and Association Process, enriched by elements of the enlargement process, will remain the cornerstone of EU policy towards the countries of the W. Balkans all the way to their accession. The crucial importance of the Thessaloniki Summit was underlined.
The EU - W. Balkans partnership must be visible, tangible, transparent and credible to the peoples of the region. The W. Balkan countries, from their part, will have to fulfill the commitments and meet the criteria set in the SAP. The progress in the road to Europe will be the result of their own efforts and performance. The prospect of European integration remains the fundamental tool for conflict resolution and conflict prevention.
The importance of strengthening regional cooperation was equally stressed. The Stability Pact, as a peace-building bridge, has yet an important role to play in becoming a catalyst for strengthening regional cooperation. Building confidence through the process of successful cooperation on key regional issues, the Pact is making an important contribution to long-term stability in the region. The South East European Cooperation Process is increasingly becoming the organized voice of the region. The role of NGOs in the region focusing on conflict prevention should be supported and strengthened.
The recent conflicts in the Balkans demonstrate well the relevance of International Humanitarian Law in facilitating reconciliation.
The Union has at its disposal a set of both long- and short-term instruments for conflict prevention and crisis management, ranging from humanitarian aid, development and trade policies, human rights policies and social policies, legal instruments to monitoring missions, early warning mechanisms, CFSP and ESDP. The new instruments available to the EU in the framework of ESDP are playing a valuable role in stabilisation and conflict prevention.
At an operational level, there needs to be:
an integrated and comprehensive approach to conflict prevention.
a maximum use of conflict prevention tools available.
conflict prevention founded on early warning and earliest possible action (early engagement is crucial in deterring further escalation of the crisis).
the close working relations between the EU and international organizations have produced many experiences that can be valid in conflict prevention. There is scope for further enhancement.
close cooperation between the EU and the US as an important factor of stability.
emphasis on building sustainable democratic institutions, achieving economic growth and development and combating organized crime and corruption.
increased mobilisation of economic factors to support politics.
further engagement of civil society as a conflict prevention instrument and cooperation between governments, international organizations and civil society.
improvement of school textbooks through eliminating "conflict producing" national stereotypes. This may function as a long-term means for reconciliation and conflict prevention.
upgrading of road and energy infrastructure projects (Pan-European corridors).
The lessons learned in the W. Balkans have value for EU activities in other regions and could be applied to external action more generally.