|Twelve southeastern European countries, including Turkey, launch a new bloc on Tuesday to speed up development and boost ties with the EU, but analysts warn political instability in the region may hamper its efforts.
"Our main goal is to strengthen cooperation between the governments in the region, boost their links with the European Union and monetary institutions with the aim to accelerate development," the Regional Cooperation Council's (RCC) Secretary General, Hido Biscevic, told the AFP.
The RCC, run exclusively by regional experts, has been headquartered in Sarajevo and is to start operating in full force on July 1.
Biscevic stressed the need for a regional approach to economic development.
"Most of the countries in the region are too small, with too small markets, to be able to resist the consequences of globalization armed exclusively with their own national strategy."
In 2007 southeastern European countries registered an average growth of between five and seven percent, double the EU average, the Croatian diplomat emphasized, adding the region was attractive for foreign investment.
Future development programmes will focus on strengthening cooperation in energy and infrastructure sectors, he said.
Biscevic could not specify when the concrete programmes would be developed, but underlined that the EU and the World Bank are to design their development plan for the region in the next few months.
"Our priorities are identical, and that is very important".
The RCC includes Albania, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Turkey.
Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia are already EU members, while Turkey, Croatia and Macedonia have a candidate status.
Biscevic sees the fact that the countries are at different stages of accession to the EU as an advantage and a catalyst of cooperation rather then as a barrier.
For example Croatia, as an EU candidate country, "has a strong national security interest to have EU member states as its neighbors," Biscevic said referring to Bosnia and Serbia.
Slovenian ambassador to Bosnia Natasa Vodusek said her country, which has held the rotating EU presidency for the past six months, was "interested in regional cooperation within the RCC".
The council should focus on transport infrastructure, she estimated.
"Without better roads, without better rail, air and maritime traffic the countries in the region would remain physically distant from the EU despite all political declarations, good will or pledges."
The three-million-euro (4.6-million-dollar) RCC budget for the first year is provided in three equal shares by the EU, international monetary institutions and member countries.
The RCC is the successor to the Stability Pact set up by the international community to strengthen peace in the former Yugoslavia following devastating wars in the 1990s.
But besides the spectacular 1999 opening ceremony that took place in Sarajevo, attended by world leaders including then US president Bill Clinton, the pact remained widely seen as inefficient.
"It was a bureaucratic institution without any substance," said political analyst from Sarajevo Emir Habul.
"The RCC has a chance to succeed if it starts working more on technical, economic level.
"It will happen if the countries recognize their economic interest and get engaged more intensively," Habul stressed.
However, Biscevic warns that current political situation in Serbia may hamper his efforts.
"I have to admit that it is difficult to build a house while it is storming outside," he said referring to political situation in Serbia following a unilateral declaration of independence by its province of Kosovo in February.
"Current political signals in the region are such that they are not going to contribute to regional cooperation," estimated Davor Gjenero, a political analyst from the Croatian capital Zagreb.
"I’m afraid that presents a significant disadvantage for Mr Biscevic", he said.
Gjenero agreed that concrete economic projects could strengthen the region but expressed doubts that hard line political forces in Serbia and Bosnia’s Serb-run part would be ready to accept such a sort of economic pragmatism.
While admitting that most of countries in the region have a history of difficult relations, Biscevic stressed that they are ready to put the past behind.
All the countries agreed to name Sarajevo as the RCC headquarters; he said adding that the move was "charged with symbolism."
"Sarajevo is a geographical center of the region, but also a symbol of suffering.
"We wanted it to become a symbol of tolerance and cooperation."