“Don’t forget us, remain open to our Countries and respect our religions, traditions and culture.” It’s the message transmitted to the European Union by Msgr. Ladislav Nemet, President of the International Bishops’ Conference St. Cyril and Methodius, at the end of a three-day meeting in Brussels before leaving for Serbia where he serves as bishop of Zrenjanin (Serbia). Msgr. Nemet, accompanied by a delegation representing the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), met with representatives of the European Commission and the European External Action Service to exchange perspectives on the EU integration for the region of South-East Europe and the role of Churches. In fact, EU accession of West Balkan countries is gaining increasing support, fostered also by the recent summit in Sofia. It is also a priority of the current Bulgarian presidency of the EU and of the Austrian presidency that will take office on July 1st2018. That is why the President of the Bishops’ Conference that brings together the bishops of Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia, has decided to meet top officials in Brussels to take stock of the state of negotiations and to explore “the necessary steps that can be taken on the part of the EU, as well as by the Western Balkans”.
Mons. Nemet, what was the outcome of the meeting in Brussels?
My first impression is good. I had several meetings with representatives of the European Commission, with whom we discussed EU integration prospects of Balkan Countries. It was encouraging to see an interest and a welcoming approach. Of course, the process will take time, and while the representatives of the six Countries – Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania e Serbia – must do everything within their power to assure the positive outcome of this process, it was nice to learn that doors are open on the European part.
My impression is that the European Union intends to help us and that we must do our share.
When we speak about the common family of European nations we cannot fail to integrate also Balkan Countries into this community. This is the first reason. These Countries’ interest for the EU has been growing in the last period because – and this is the second reason – the EU is not present everywhere and there are other areas of influence in Europe. In this respect,
The integration of these Countries into the EU can ensure greater stability in this Region
which over the past decades has faced various problems and pressures. If the European Union manages to complete this integration process it will foster greater stability in this area from the political, economic and religious angle.
Balkan countries eagerly request EU membership at a historic time when the countries of Western Europe are overwhelmed by nationalisms and political parties that call for the exit of their countries from the Eurozone. Does it not seem strange? Indeed, each Country has it own particular relationship with the EU, all inherently different from one another. Countries like Italy were among the founding States of the process leading to the creation of the European Union, but in the course of history people change, opinions evolve, situations undergo transformations. Today, in some Countries EU membership is viewed differently compared to 40 years ago. But it can’t be assumed that this is true for all countries, especially for those that are not yet members of the EU.
In all respects, being members of this Union is better than not being part of it. Remaining outside the European Union means that other players could take its place. And this is what could happen in the Balkans. Indeed, the European Union is not perfect, but it’s better than other realities that risk taking its place.
What does the EU represent to citizens of Balkan Countries?
It represents a better standard of living, employment, security, less corruption, higher levels of education for our youths, improved access to justice.
And to the Churches? Aren’t you afraid of secularization spreading into your Countries?
In fact in some environments there are some concerns. Moreover, in the European Community the relationship between States and religious organizations and Churches is well organized. This ensures everyone’s security and greater control not only at local level but in compliance with international regulations. There ensues that religious freedom does not depend on political leaders in office or on national interests. In fact it is equally respected on the basis of the same criteria throughout the European Union.
Macedonia’s naming dispute exposed the difficulties of reaching agreements and the heavy legacy of historical events. What is your view?
I agree. It’s a very complex issue that involves different mindsets. In many Countries the memory of historical events weighs heavily in the present, probably more than in West European countries. In many cases it’s hard to find the solutions to important problems and one of these problems was the name of Macedonia. It remained a hanging issue for 30 years, and I will be grateful if a solution is finally found. In the past 30 years youths have grown up not knowing how to describe their nationality, this means that they can’t name the nationality written on their passport. It’s crucial to overcome this standstill and solve the dispute between Macedonia and Greece.