„Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free. The violence of the first half of the 20th century has given way to a period of peace and stability unprecedented in European history.“

This positive assessment stems from the introduction of the European Security Strategy of 2003. Thirteen years later, the optimism has gone, reality has kicked in, and the outlook for Europe looks grim. Today, the EU is facing the worst array of domestic and external security threats since the Cold War order collapsed a generation ago. At Europe’s Eastern borders, Russia is stoking war in Ukraine and intimidating its neighbors, the regional order in the Middle East and North Africa has collapsed, producing a mass outpouring of refugees, and jihadi terrorist attacks threaten our open societies and have helped create and grow populist and right wing movements across the EU. And NATO, the backbone of our transatlantic alliance and the security guarantor for over 50 years, is experiencing growing fractions in trying to build consensus on how to deal with the fundamental changes in its security environment.

At the same time, the Western Balkan countries are aiming for membership in Euro-Atlantic Organizations, especially the European Union. All countries in the region share the security threats EU member states are facing and, given their geographic position and lack of integration in European security structures, are left especially vulnerable to them. How can we jointly respond to these challenges? How can we ensure that the Western Balkans are not falling back on their path?

It is an undoubted fact that Europe needs the stability of the Western Balkans as much as the Western Balkans need to continue the European integration process. However, this two-way street can only work if all partners involved are aware of the necessity for compromise, being it the importance to enhance and speed up the reform processes in the countries or continued European support for the membership perspective of the region.

The refugee crisis has shown the limits of European solidarity amongst its member states and it has unleashed disintegrational forces in an unprecedented manner. Nonetheless, the crises in and around Europe are also teaching us an important lesson: We all have a deeply ingrained desire for peace and stability. In so far, the refugee crisis and its impact on European solidarity and the stability of the Western Balkan countries will be a litmus test of how we can live up to these challenges and how to bring our European house in order. It certainly needs urgent repairs, but it is still the only organization that can help ensure this overarching goal of keeping peace and building a secure and free Europe. It therefore needs the continuation of our joint commitment to not give up on our vision of a “Europe whole and free!”