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A Journal of Foreign Policy Issues



The Royaumont Process
An Initiative for Stability and Good Neighbourliness in South-Eastern Europe

By Dr. Panaghiotis Roumeliotis, Co-ordinator of the Royaumont Initiative

In order to consolidate peace and stability in the region of South-Eastern Europe, sound structures and constructive policies are required today more than ever. New analytical and diplomatic tools are needed to deal effectively with the problems of SE Europe. South-East Europe is a region which encompasses peoples differing in ethnicity, culture and religion. In the post-communist era of cultural diversity, a pandemonium of competing ethnic and religious forces have been released.

In the absence of sound democratic and enduring State and civic structures established by consensus, these forces have once more turned the region into an arena of potentially deadly conflict. In contrast to these developments in SE Europe, a very different world-view prevails today in the Euro-Atlantic region. The Royaumont Process, an initiative focusing on the promotion of Stability and Good Neighbourliness in South-Eastern Europe, is guided by a specific vision for this turbulent region: the vision of a united, extended European family, founded on the principles of peace, stability, co-operation and democracy.

Europe's experience of the latter half of this century has proven that peace, stability, and economic prosperity can be achieved through a process of integration and co-operation despite the differences separating the various States and Peoples. Peace and stability are the very foundations upon which the European Community was built. The Enlargement Agenda in conjunction with the Stability Pact and the Policy of Regional Co-operation demonstrate in a concrete way the European Union's resolve to shoulder its responsibilities towards its neighbours in the central, eastern and south-eastern regions of the European Continent.

The potential for conflict both within and across national boundaries is aggravated by the lack of effective communication channels among citizens and politicians. In the absence of institutions enabling conflicts to be resolved and differences to be transmuted into political debate, confrontation is always a possibility. Ethnic and national prejudices are thus perpetuated in the region. It is therefore of paramount importance to promote the concept of a broader European identity in a shared democratic culture for conflict situations to be alleviated and relations between the countries of the region and the EU to be strengthened.

Conflicts based on cultural, ethnic, and religious differences cannot, however, be prevented or resolved only at the political level. These are matters of conscience and, as such, must be addressed by the individuals themselves who must be assisted in order to overcome their prejudices, and learn about their fellow citizens and how to tolerate their differences.

The Royaumont Initiative emerged as an outcome of the Stability Pact of Europe (March 1995) and the Peace Process as embodied in the Dayton Agreement. The appointment of a Process Co-ordinator for the Royaumont Initiative by the Council of Ministers of the European Union is an expression of the European Union's intention to reassert its presence in the region by giving a new momentum to the projects of stability, neighbourliness, conflict alleviation, and peace. It is also the EU's recognition of the importance of citizen groups and civil associations to act in promoting democratisation and conflict resolution.

The Royaumont Process constitutes an innovative, comprehensive approach to conflict alleviation in a twofold way. First, it encourages democratisation by promoting a dialogue amongst citizens and the modernisation of civic structures. Second, it fosters and extends new communication channels among different groups across national boundaries, creating co-operation networks among non-governmental organisations. It thus substantially supplements the existing instruments of preventive diplomacy and conflict alleviation.

At this point, I would like to expand on the practical aspects of the initiative, on the activities I have been engaged in since my appointment as Co-ordinator of the Process, and on the perspectives in the field of regional co-operation within the Royaumont Process.

I have travelled to the participating countries of South-Eastern Europe, Albania, the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, FYROM, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Turkey, as well as to Russia and the United States in order to establish personal contact with governments, civil associations, NGO representatives, and the press. I have submitted my action plan to these governments and obtained their full support. The future plans of the Royaumont Process have been discussed, prepared and enriched during my visits. I have also been engaged in a constructive dialogue with representatives of NGOs in all the countries I have visited, explaining the criteria of the Royaumont Process and encouraging the drafting of projects that promote stability and good neighbourliness in the region.

A follow-up meeting of the Royaumont Initiative was held on 1 April 1998 in Athens under the chairmanship of the United Kingdom as the then President of the EU. During this meeting, representatives of country-members of the Royaumont Process reiterated their support and endorsed the actions taken so far, thus giving a new momentum to the process. In the course of these discussions, it was noted that recent events made even more manifest the need for co-operation and dialogue to strengthen stability in the region. The most recent developments in bi-lateral and regional co-operation were reported and the positive prospects for normalising relations between the SE States were welcomed.

A meeting of representatives of journalist unions of the country-members of the Royaumont Process was held at the same time on 30 and 31 March. The meeting addressed various issues relating to the free and unimpeded flow of information in SE Europe, as well as to various cross-border co-operation schemes among journalists»to be implemented under the Royaumont umbrella»that would facilitate the elimination of prejudices. The meeting concluded with the Declaration and Media Action Plan for Peace, Understanding, and Tolerance in SE Europe, the first document of its kind among journalists of the region. At the end of a joint meeting held on 31 March 1998, the journalists and the representatives of each country had the opportunity to expand on these issues and engage in open dialogue. As a result, the International Federation of Journalists has submitted to the initiative a project proposal entitled Media Strategies for Stability and Peace in the Region of South-East Europe: A Media Project for Countries of the Royaumont Process.

The project proposal involves all journalist organisations in the region, and contributes to the Royaumont Initiative through the creation of a network of journalists, media co-operation, research and training in the skills of reporting diversity, self-regulation, as well as in the areas of conflict resolution and journalistic independence. The European Commission has recently approved the financing of this project.

During the meeting, the Greek Government proposed the adoption of a Memorandum of Understanding on the Freedom of the Media in South-Eastern Europe by the Governments of the countries involved in the process. A version reflecting the input of various Governments is being finalised, and the complete document is expected to be adopted in due course.

A number of project proposals were submitted to the Royaumont Process, and the member-countries expressed their willingness to financially endorse various projects that focus on the creation of networks of cross-border co-operation among different citizen groups. Luxembourg has signed an agreement to fund the project Promoting Positive Messages Through the Media; The Project has been successfully implemented. Greece has financially endorsed the projects Developing a Network of Young South-Eastern European Leaders 1998-2000, submitted by ELIAMEP, and Co-operation of Universities for the Promotion of Stability, Human Rights, and Sustainable Peace in South-Eastern Europe, submitted by the University of Athens. The Netherlands is financing the project Workshop on Reporting Ethnic Minorities and Ethnic Conflict. The UK has co-sponsored the project Regional Round Table on Free Media Perspectives, submitted by the Council of Europe, and has also financed a project dealing with a summer camp for children from Turkey and FYROM. Both projects have been implemented.

More than seventy-nine (79) project proposals have been submitted, which refer to all SE European countries participating in the Royaumont Initiative. A great number of ideas and draft proposals of NGO reach our offices in Athens and Brussels on a regular basis. The project proposals cover almost all possible realms of civil society such as the media, inter-ethnic dialogue, dialogue between political leaders, academic co-operation and education, co-operation between women's organisations, co-operation between cities, trade unions and youth organisations, inter-parliamentary dialogue, co-operation in the areas of business and legal matters, public administration, medicine, culture, science and technology, and the environment.

In the firm belief that stability and neighbourliness in the region can be achieved through co-operation, the Royaumont Initiative has been in close contact with and exchanging information with other initiatives and organisations operating in the region. Meetings with the Black Sea Economic Co-operation (BSCE), the OSCE, the Central European Initiative (CEI), and the South-Eastern Co-operative Initiative (SECI) were most encouraging. All those involved in the initiatives have welcomed the important role that parallel and common activities can play in the region.

As an outcome of the decisions taken in the Athens meeting, and in order to promote the co-operation amongst NGOs, an international NGO meeting took place on 10 and 11 July 1998 in Thessaloniki. Representatives of more than 100 NGOs of the participating countries, as well as distinguished personalities experienced in the problems of the region, attended this meeting, in order to prepare an agenda of specific topics to be submitted as projects to the Royaumont Process. The participants' areas of interest were education, culture, institutions, communication, and scientific research.

The meeting adopted a declaration and an action plan which is currently being developed in anticipation of concrete proposals concerning various fields of interest identified by NGOs of the region. Participants passed a proposal to create a Royaumont NGO Network. The Lambrakis Research Foundation was appointed co-ordinator of the network. The follow-up meeting on NGO co-operation will take place in Tirana in May 1999.

A meeting among the Presidents of the Foreign Affairs Committees of the National Parliaments of all participating countries was organised on 21 September 1998 in Brussels in co-operation with the European Parliament. The meeting aimed at developing and enhancing the dialogue among National Parliaments in order to promote stability and good neighbourliness in the region. The meeting was most encouraging, as all representatives expressed their readiness to discuss crucial issues and adopt an action plan enhancing co-operation and the promotion of parliamentarism. The follow-up meeting is scheduled to take place in Skopje in April 1999.

Under the Royaumont Initiative, the Council of Europe organised a multilateral meeting (Budapest, 1-3 October 1998) on the legal status of NGOs and their role in a pluralistic society. The important role that NGOs have to play in the region was underlined, and methods on how to obtain legal recognition and secure financing were discussed. The conclusions reached by the participants constitute useful material for the efforts undertaken by the Royaumont Initiative to strengthen civil society.

The follow-up meeting of the Royaumont Process for the second half of 1998 was organised under the Austrian Presidency of the European Union on 17 November 1998 in Graz. Participant countries reiterated their support, thus giving momentum to the initiative. Concurrently to the meeting, an important conference on European Educational Co-operation for Peace, Stability and Democracy took place under Austria's Council Presidency. Among the crucial issues discussed were the following:

1. What contribution can teaching materials and curricula make to promote understanding and agreement, and to minimise conflict in South-Eastern Europe?

2. What contribution can education make in each member-state towards altering the way countries are perceived by a State's citizens?

This conference was a courageous and pioneering step towards the realisation that education is of prime importance towards promoting tolerance and democracy. Democratic education for citizens, history and history teaching, vocational education and training, co-operation in higher education, and educational policies towards cultural pluralism were the prominent issues endorsed at the conference. The Royaumont Initiative is now committed to the importance of education in shaping the attitudes of the younger generations. The follow-up meeting on education will take place in Sofia.

The Royaumont Process has thus been active on many fronts. A common position was adopted by the Council of Ministers on 9 November 1998, establishing a legal basis for the financing of certain Royaumont projects from the CFSP budget. Because of the unique nature of the Royaumont Initiative, urging civil societies from all of South-Eastern Europe to co-operate, difficulties were encountered in financing projects which involved countries that fell under different EU budget lines. The adoption of this common position has enabled the Royaumont Initiative to secure funds for such projects.

In addition, the EU Parliament has voted, on first reading, to allocate a segment of Phare funds in 1999 for projects submitted to the Royaumont Process. If this is implemented, a large number of submitted projects will be approved under the Rayaumont Process, thus adding new momentum to the initiative.

In implementing my Action Plan, I am determined to prepare the ground for the future political prospects of the initiative. Our long-term goal is to facilitate regional and sub-regional agreements of neighbourliness and stability.

The Royaumont Initiative, as previously mentioned, emanates from a vision of having an extended European family founded on the principles of democracy, peace, stability and economic growth. The EU is called upon to protect itself from the dangerous upheavals that could be caused by the process of globalisation to its economic, social and security balance. To this end, the EU has to consider what strategy to follow in order to bridge existing or future differences within and outside the Union, to secure its enlargement, and to reinforce convergence, democratisation and the implementation of common policies.

Future EU enlargement requires potential candidate countries to prepare to become part of its economic and administrative machinery. The steady liberalisation of internal markets and the high level of education and vocational training, coupled with low wages in post-communist countries, do attract foreign investments. However, the level of foreign investments is not enough to meet the challenge of restructuring national economies. The major reasons for this shortfall are the absence of infrastructure, the inefficient public administration, and the failure of managers to adopt western models.

The crucial question that needs to be asked is whether the EU, and the West in general, could provide the necessary means for the smooth transition of these economies to the new market system.

My personal contacts with the developments and the peoples of the candidate countries, or the countries that, for the time being, are just neighbours to EU member-states, revealed a fragile balance between belief and disbelief.

The belief that someday they will join us in the EU originates from their fervent desire to become part of the western world of democracy and economic growth. The disbelief is founded on whether such a possibility could ever prove feasible considering the price that must be paid.

Adjusting to the western principles of public administration, enhancing public awareness of the citizen's role, and balancing private and public interests are tasks that need time to be completed after so many years of isolation. It is astonishing, however, to observe the response of those countries to the co-operation and communication challenges presented by the international order.

This international order has ceased to be monolithic, comprising only States. The individual has acquired an international voice through the establishment of business and NGO networks focusing on specialised interests, knowledge, creativity and means. The Royaumont Initiative aims at contributing to the development and strengthening of civil society in SE Europe so that the union of the peoples of Europe can soon become a reality.