On 6 March, the Spanish EU Presidency proposed to hold a high-level meeting of European Union and Balkan officials in Sarajevo in June to "reinforce the European perspective of the region," AFP reported.
"We must show the countries in the region that we continue to care even more than we did ten years ago," Spain and Italy said in a statement to their EU partners circulated at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Cordoba, Spain.
"Relevant partners" such as the US, Russia and Turkey could be invited to attend part of the meeting, the document suggested.
Back in July 1999 in war-torn Sarajevo, leaders from EU countries, together with the USA, Canada, Japan, Russia, Turkey and non-EU countries Switzerland and Norway, initiated a high-profile initiative called the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe. More significantly, the EU's Thessaloniki summit in June 2003 offered the Western Balkan countries assurances of their future accession to the Union. Meanwhile, the main tasks of the Stability Pact were inherited by a regionally-owned body, the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), based in Sarajevo.
Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), has been chosen to host major political events, including the RCC, largely as a means of encouraging nation-building in the former Yugoslav republic, which is still split between its Serb, Croat and Muslim entities.
Regional cooperation has suffered setbacks recently, as illustrated by the much-publicised absence of Serbian President Boris Tadić at the recent inauguration of Croatian President Ivo Josipović. Tadić boycotted the event due to the presence of Kosovar President Fatmir Sejdiu at the ceremony in Zagreb (EurActiv 18/02/10).
Moreover, an informal regional conference between heads of state, due to take place in Brdo, Slovenia on 20 March, hangs in the balance as no formula has been found on how to accommodate Belgrade and Pristina at the same table, press in the region reported.
Conference stripped of state symbols?
Slovenia's Foreign Minister Samuel Žbogar reportedly proposed that Kosovo's representatives could attend based on the idea that "participating states take part without their names written down" and UNMIK – the UN body responsible for Kosovo's post-conflict management and which is recognised by Serbia – would be invited to the gathering.
However, Fatmir Sejdiu and Hashim Thaci, Kosovo's president and prime minister respectively, insisted that they would travel to Slovenia "only as representatives of the state of Kosovo".
It is unclear how the envisaged meetings, both in Bled and in Sarajevo, can take place without alienating either Belgrade or Pristina. In its efforts as mediator, Spain – one of the EU countries that does not recognise Kosovo (see 'Background') – pledged to be impartial in its role as holder of the Union's rotating presidency.
Slovenia's Foreign Minister Samuel Žbogar was quoted as saying that "things change" and many details will not be fine-tuned until the last moment before the regional meeting in Bled, according to Serbian agency B92.
Gazprom comes into play
But while EU diplomats struggle to find shortcuts on regional cooperation, Russia has taken steps to strengthen its influence in the Western Balkans, with its gas monopoly Gazprom announcing the possible participation of the Republika Srpska – one of the three entities that make up BiH – in the South Steam gas pipeline project.
"I may surely say now that we will become part of the global South Stream project," Milorad Dodik told reporters after a three-day visit to Russia, local press reported.
Almir Becarevic, the general manager of the Muslim-Croat BiH federation's gas distributor BH-Gas, said the project was politically motivated and would not be profitable as there were no major gas consumers along the planned route.