European Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Cretu said in Dubrovnik on Thursday that by being included in the European Union, the Balkans has an opportunity to transform from a powder keg to a secure region and called on countries within the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative to strengthen cooperation in an effort to achieve that aim.
EU membership prospects make the Balkans securer so that it transforms from a powder keg to an advanced region, Cretu said addressing the 1st Forum of the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR) organised by the European Commission and Croatian government.
Countries participating in the EUSAIR conference include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia, and Cretu said that cooperation was vital particularly in resolving issues that cannot be overcome individually such as security, climate change and innovations.
The current geopolitical situation is a test for EUSAIR, she underscored.
Croatian Parliament Speaker Zeljko Reiner warned that Europe is faced with the greatest migrant crisis since World War II.
"The European Union and other countries affected by the refugee issue have to be wary of possible new migrant routes and their movements and it is necessary to intensify the fight against people smuggling," Reiner stressed.
He underscored that 92 million people live in the eight countries of EUSAIR and there is huge potential to advance cooperation particularly as these countries have a "very similar identity and similar cultures."
"Because of the diversity, wealth and its 1,200 islands and the opportunities for cooperation it offers, the Adriatic is Croatia's national priority," he said.
Croatia's Foreign and European Affairs Minister Miro Kovac emphasised that the member states of the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative (AII) need to focus on the opportunities offered by aquaculture and that it was vital for those countries to modernise their fish farming.
"We have to work on developing a low-carbon transport network not just along the coast but in the hinterland as well," Kovac said, adding that the AII countries could advance cooperation for environment protection and developing sustainable tourism.
A special panel discussion was organised in the afternoon with participants mostly reflecting on the migrant problem faced by these countries and Europe overall, advocating stronger cooperation to overcome the migrant crisis.
Albanian Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati said that Kosovo and Macedonia should be included in the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative, while Serbia's representative Jadranka Joksimovic advocated large infrastructure projects in the AII area.
Bosnia and Herzegovina's Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak underscored that the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative was important for his country on its European Union path.
"A recent survey among all three constituent peoples -- Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats -- indicated that 80% of respondents support the country's integration into the EU," he said.