On February 6, 2019, the Transatlantic Leadership Network organized a conference at the U.S. Capitol: “Mediterranean Basin: Opportunities and Obstacles.” Topics of discussion and debate included how the Western Balkans can overcome obstacles on the road toward the EU, Libya’s future, the U.S. – Greece energy partnership, and energy developments in the Eastern Mediterranean.
TLN’s President, Daniel Hamilton (R), welcomed Ilir Meta (L), President of the Republic of Albania, who delivered the keynote address. His full remarks can be found here.
President Meta: “In the past years, we have witnessed how Montenegro’s accession to NATO, and the latest Prespa Agreement now sealed between Republic of North Macedonia and Greece, have energized new optimism in our region. The only border change for which we must work night and day in our region, is the full extension of the European frontier in the Western Balkans! I would also like to see the wise and bold EU decision to implement the visa-free regime for Kosovo’s citizens as soon as possible, and in general a fast track accession process for the whole region. We stand in solidarity with our partners, and against any gambling of our common European future.”
The first panel gathered together prominent officials to discuss EU accession in the Western Balkans. It included (L-R) Gabriel-Benjamin Leș, Romanian Minister of Defense, moderator Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero (Ret.), Vice President, Transatlantic Leadership Network, Ivan Brajović, President of the Parliament of Montenegro, Vladimir Marinković, Deputy Speaker of the Serbian Parliament, Goran Miraščić, Advisor to the Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Fatmir Mediu, Member of Parliament and former Minister of Defense of Albania.
Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero (Ret.) moderated the session. He asserted, “The idea of border changes in the Western Balkans is a dangerous thought,” referencing proposed land swaps such as that between Serbia and Kosovo. “EU and NATO integration are key to regional stability, and countries must be moving away from the grievances of the past.”
Fatmir Mediu (R), Chairman of Albania’s Republican Party and Member of Parliament, was optimistic about prospects of Albania accession, though noted that reforms were necessary. “Reforms not just for Brussels, but for the people of the Western Balkans. Economic reforms, not just political, are needed for citizens to prevent further employment drain in the region.
Goran Miraščič (L), Adviser to the Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, emphasized the importance of cooperation among the countries of the Western Balkans: “Free trade zones like CEFTA are becoming a potentially important stage for Western Balkan preparation for EU integration. With CEFTA fully implemented the Western Balkan countries will have evidence of improved level of its competitiveness and justafiable ticket holders for accession to the EU. The key lies in joint work and if possible joint exploration of its competitive advantages.”
Vladimir Marinković, Deputy Speaker of the Serbian Parliament, offered a Serbia perspective on Euro-Atlantic integration in the Western Balkans. Serbia, in addition to Montenegro, is seen as a frontrunner in EU accession negotiations. Border disputes with Serbia’s neighboring countries remains an issue to be solved moving forward.
Ivan Brajović, President of the Parliament of Montenegro, spoke of the importance of the United States for Western Balkans integration: “Of great importance is your role, as proven friends of the Western Balkans, to keep Washington’s attention on our region. The United States must remain present in the region – not to solve problems instead of us, but to show that they are interested in the future of the region in the EU and NATO, where all countries of the Western Balkans naturally belong.”
Gabriel-Benjamin Leș, Romania Minister of Defense, provided comment following the panelists’ remarks. Romania took up the Presidency of the European Union earlier this year.
Sasha Toperich (L), Senior Executive Vice President of TLN, led a conversation with Khaled al-Mishri (R), President of the High Council of State of Libya, for the second session. Al-Mishri stressed the need for a “democratic Libya, a country that will not be ruled by military but by duly democratically elected officials.” Al-Mishri called on the U.S. government to reopen its embassy in Tripoli following an “improved security situation.”
Toperich: “Countries of Maghreb should be inspired by the robust economic reforms the government of Egypt has successfully embraced. Economic reforms in Libya are essential to stop the long suffering of Libyan people. Libya needs organized private business sector to be strong voice in improving business climate in Libya, by working closely but independently from the government.
We look forward to hosting political figures from all walks of life in Libya in our effort to contribute in reconciliation process and in our support for the much-needed economic reforms. New, well organized elections in Libya will be the positive turning point.”
Al-Mishri (R): “Key for the citizens of Libya are the economic reforms and we need to move faster in building of our government institutions to implement needed economic reforms and so improve living conditions of our citizens.”
The third session discussed energy issues in the Eastern Mediterranean, and specifically the U.S.-Greece energy partnership. Panelists and speakers included (L-R) Athanasios Platias, Professor, Department of International and European Studies, University of Piraeus, Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow, American Foreign Policy Council, Lena Argiri, Washington Correspondent, Greece Public Broadcasting, Petros Liacouras, Professor of International Law, University of Piraeus, and John Paravantis, Professor, University of Piraeus. Edward Joseph, Senior Fellow at TLN, moderated the discussion.
“As Greece seeks to privatize energy sector, this administration stands ready to assist in the process of increasing capacity without political coercion,” said Joseph Uddo (R), Deputy Assistant Secretary of International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy. “Transparency, stability, and liquidity should be a focal point of the region. This administration encourages innovation over regulation and stands behind diversifying energy supplies.”
Stephen Blank (center) asserted, “Tensions between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas impacts energy availability in the Balkans, as well as the entire Mediterranean Basin. The Three Seas Initiative should extend to included a fourth–the Mediterranean–to secure energy access in the Balkans.”
Vast off-shore gas findings in the Eastern Mediterranean has elevated the region’s potential for economic revival. Petros Liacouras, Professor of International Law, Department of International and European Studies at the University of Piraeus, discussed the unresolved legal issues complicating the energy revolution in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Lena Argiri commented on the partnership between the United States and Greece in general, noting that “the U.S.-Greece relationship is reaching new highs, with plenty of opportunities to grow further.” She praised U.S. State Department officials such as Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. Ambassador to Greece, on the increased cooperation, particularly in the wake of the recent bilateral strategic dialogue.
Michael Haltzel, Chairman of the Transatlantic Leadership Network, gave closing remarks, thanking Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01) for being the sponsoring Member of the conference, and invited participants to be a part of TLN’s upcoming conferences, such as the inaugural Annual Energy Leadership Summit in Greece this June.