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By George Papandreou

George Papandreou is the foreign minister of Greece.

ATHENS -- Through the recent elections, the Serbian people have sent Europe a clear message: They want democracy, stability and security. And they want to share their future with us. Now is the time for us to answer. That answer must be a strong yes.

Southeastern Europe can be a region reunified with Europe and within the European Union. This vision led more than 40 nations last year to develop a unique contract between the international community and Southeastern Europe: It was coined the Stability Pact. In my view, the Stability Pact can be the incubator of a new contract for the Balkans.

Greece has a clear sense of how this can come about: First we need to empower this region that has been historically handicapped, dependent and divided by a world community of competing interests and a babble of conflicting signals. This Balkanization of the region -- in which Great Powers competed, fought proxy wars and set up spheres of influence in the absence of democratic institutions -- must be replaced by coordination of international efforts.

It therefore is an optimistic sign that today, international organizations, the European Union, the United States and Russia cooperate in the context of the Stability Pact.

Second, we need to support cooperation within the region. Regional integration can be achieved as the Stability Pact promotes investment in infrastructure projects, democratic leadership training, institution building and education that will bring us together, stimulate economic development and promote systematic cooperation and respect of international law among the states and peoples of Southeastern Europe.

In the ever-changing world of the 21st century, cultural and educational diplomacy should be a vital political priority. Through culture and education, we can fundamentally transform the Balkans. Educational diplomacy will help promote European integration in the Balkans. Educational exchanges among the Balkan candidate countries will be essential to the establishment of peaceful cooperation.

In response to the challenge posed by the opening of Central and Eastern Europe, the Brussels-based College of Europe has made a commitment to provide the necessary European education channels and training with the establishment of a second campus in Warsaw. With the opening of the Balkans, the College of Europe, in close cooperation with the European Commission, should commit itself in establishing a third campus in Thessalonika, providing the region with the same opportunities.

Already Greece's bustling northern seaport has become a commercial and cultural center for our neighboring countries. Today it is the host of the regional office for the pact and the seat of the European Union's Reconstruction Agency for Southeastern Europe. Its academic institutions can provide training possibilities for young leaders from the Balkans concerning know-how on EU laws and institutions.

Finally, we need to integrate the region into the wider European family. This translates into providing a road map for the region with clear standards to be achieved by each country prepared to join Europe: improved systems of governance, an effective market, strong democratic institutions and a thriving civil society.

Central, therefore, to the future of the region is whether the European Union is willing to commit itself, by action, to the eventual integration of the region into the union.

The Serbian people have now offered Europe a chance to transform the Balkan region that has been the spark of so many fires. Clearly, a failure of vision at this moment would squander that opportunity.

(c) 2000, European Viewpoint/El Pais. Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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