Prodi urges 'heavy-duty commitment' to Balkans

BRUSSELS, Mar 21, 2000 -- (Reuters) European Union leaders meeting in Lisbon later this week must redouble EU efforts to bring lasting peace to the Balkans, and without delay, European Commission President Romano Prodi said on Tuesday.

He called for "radical new plans" and "heavy-duty political commitment" that will prove the EU possesses the stamina to build peace today after fighting war a year ago.

He said a good start would be freeing the Danube waterway, which remains blocked by bridges downed by NATO bombs last year.

"The resources are available and the projects are ready. To delay action would be to let the region down and bring shame on ourselves," Prodi said in an article for International Herald Tribune ahead of the March 24 anniversary of the start of NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia in 1999.

Doubts about Europe's commitment to creating a politically and economically stable Balkans have multiplied along with chronic problems of funding and policing the Kosovo protectorate, aggravated by resurgent ethnic tensions.

"It is a Herculean task and it is nowhere near complete," Prodi said. But only Europe could offer a long-lasting solution to the Balkans and hold out the prospect of a brighter future as part of the European family.

It was not just a moral responsibility, Prodi added.

"If we fail, we face continued instability and conflict - and a fresh wave of refugees."


"We need to redouble our efforts and there is not time to lose," the former Italian premier said.

Failure to rise to the challenge would not only undermine the credibility of the EU's common foreign and security policy but would also "run the risk of serious risk with our friends in the United States", he warned.

The United States bore the main cost of last year's military campaign and feels strongly that Europe should shoulder the main burden in building the peace, Prodi said.

Europe was already doing its bit, but more was required for the Balkans as a whole. "We need a coherent policy for the whole area rather than separate policies for each country or region," he said.

The democratic forces that now hold sway in Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia must be consolidated and encouraged and entrenched as a sign of hope for Serbia's struggling opposition.

Original article