The Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2005URL (Internet address) : http://www.eu2005.lu/en/actualites/interviews/2005/06/30ja-balkans/
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Jean Asselborn: "The Balkans are the priority for the EU"
DW-WORLD: Luxembourg led the EU presidency for the last six months. It was a turbulent half year involving several setbacks for Europe: The EU constitution has been indefinitely put on ice, agreement on the bloc's finances has failed, and the EU is in the grip of crisis. Are you personally bitter in the face of all this?
Jean Asselborn: No. It really was a difficult presidency. With some hard work we could solve problems regarding the Stability and Growth Pact. That was a success. But you're right about the collapse of the EU's budget talks. 24 countries pushed for a solution to the British rebate, but it didn't work. I think the British presidency understands - after all the British are very intelligent politicians - that you can't afford a pause after such a failure. We have to work hard again. Our suggestion's on the table and I'm convinced that it will help the British to steer the EU motor back on the right path again. We'll make it very tough for the new member states if we don't manage to solve the EU's budgetary problems. The British know that, that's why I'm curious about how far removed their suggestion to end the crisis would be from ours in the end.
DW-WORLD: Naturally, one is always wiser in hindsight, but if you were to repeat the last six months with what you know today, what would you do differently?
Jean Asselborn: What can a presidency do against decisions of the Dutch and French electorate? We had a program - we managed to implement some of it and some we didn't. We knew that our presidency - in the face of the referendum and other topics which we were given when we took over - would not be easy. But we've done some good spadework for the next presidency. If we want Europe to continue to play an important role in the world and be more than just a free trade zone, then we must work on deepening the bloc.
DW-WORLD: Now you're handing over the EU presidency reins to Tony Blair, of all people, who has described the Luxembourg budgetary compromise solution as "unacceptable." Harsh words have been exchanged. Is that the final straw between you and the British? Will there be a formal handover of office between you and British Foreign Minister Straw and premiers Juncker and Blair?
Jean Asselborn: We're all grown-ups. Britain's strategy over the budget negotiations was strange. They knew very well that it would be quite difficult to dismantle the common agricultural policy and restructure it. That was shoved to the center of negotiations in order to distract attention from the British rebate. 24 countries wanted a change to the rebate but because the British blocked it, we didn't manage to push it through. Now the British have to find a solution in the next six months.
There are absolutely no personal problems between Straw and I, nor do I think between Tony Blair and Jean-Claude Juncker. We'll look each other in the eye again and continue to battle - each in his own way - to bring Europe forward. I'm convinced that the British won't completely reject our recommendations on the budget. But we must also do a rethink together with the British, to give the EU more depth. And we need the constitution so that the EU functions better. I don't know whether the present draft constitution will ever become reality. But we must explain to the people of Europe why we want a deepening of the EU and for more profoundness we need a constitution.
DW-WORLD: Let's attempt a look at the future. How will the EU look in 10 years? Will it be the same EU as today or will it be a different form of alliance?
Jean Asselborn: The EU still has to tackle a geographical responsibility, namely to give the people in the Balkans a European perspective. If Europe doesn't manage this really important duty, then it's missed its goal. We have to give the people between Slovenia and Greece a chance to integrate themselves in Europe. Europe must, in the coming decade, concentrate on this geographical border.
DW-WORLD: You didn't explicitly mention Turkey. Will Turkey be a member of the EU in 10 years?
Jean Asselborn: Turkey has received a date from the European Union. The negotiations over membership will begin on Oct. 3. That's an open-ended process, rightly articulated as much by the EU commission. This perspective has brought many positive things for the people in Turkey. The death sentence has been scrapped, torture - at least on paper - doesn't exist any more, and there have been reforms in the field of human rights. But, many more things still have to become concrete in Turkey, though there's already a very good start. One problem that still has to be resolved, even by the EU, is the Cyprus issue. All this will take years and one day we'll have to decide whether we can link the bridge between West and East and Turkey. But, as the biggest responsibility, we need to concentrate on the Balkans. If we don't do that, there's a danger of new conflicts in the region. A second responsibility is the negotiation with Turkey.