Europe and the Balkans, A Year After Milosevic

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

In the post-September 11 strategic environment, international attention for the Balkans is dimming. Western priorities are shifting elsewhere – bringing resources with them. A major power realignment is underway, with its unavoidable impact on the region. The historical window of opportunity for the region, which opened at the end of the 1990s, is apparently closing down.

Even without accepting the theory that the “new war” generated by the terrorist attack on New York is destined to alter the entire international order – finally closing the “post-Cold War” phase – the strategic shift is in fact extremely important. New trends are taking shape: important changes in the Bush Administration’s approach to foreign policy; the premises for a new division of labour between the US and EU; the return of Russia as primary interlocutor for Washington and as cooperative/competitive partner in stabilising Central Asia; the relaunching of a dialogue with China on issues of “comprehensive security”. All these trends – combined with the fact that the Middle East and the Gulf are once again top priority – will have long-term effects on South-Eastern Europe.

The overall impact will likely be two-fold. On one hand, the already ongoing devolution to the EU of full responsibilities for the Balkans will speed up. At the same time, new budgetary constraints will imply that the search for a “self-sustaining” stability will gain more importance.

More specifically, the following can be foreseen:

1. The gradual disengagement of the United States in the direct post-war Balkans management will sharpen. As evident in recent developments in crisis management in Macedonia, responsibilities – military, economic, political – will be overwhelmingly assumed by the EU, and in particular by more exposed or more concerned European countries, such as Italy and Germany.

2. The European approach to the overall area will be filtered, more than in the past, through the “prism” of the fight against terrorism and organized crime. This criteria will dominate the choice of interlocutors while the degree of “tolerance” afforded towards sources of insecurity and regional instability will tend to diminish.

3. The costs of the new war against terrorism will lead to new difficulties, also on Europe’s part, in allocating important resources to projects for stabilization in the Balkans.

4. Overall, Europe will attribute increased importance to a positive cooperative relationship with Russia – with its influence on problem solving in the Balkans.

We will see below how these tendencies could affect the management of ongoing delicate problems in the region, starting with the future – if any – of the Yugoslav Federation. Taking them all into consideration, one conceivable outcome might be that Europe’s Balkan interlocutors be pressed – more explicitly than in the past – to face up to their specific responsibilities in building a more self-sustaining regional framework.

Although this is often overlooked, there is a unique quality to the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Balkans. For the first time, the participants in a recently ended conflict are attempting to join a long-established international integration process. Still, the post-September 11 environment places stronger demands on the political leaders of the region and on the European guardians of the process. In a sense, the governments and other players in the area will be called upon to make a “leap in maturity”, overcoming their dependence on external forces of stabilization which post-September 11 tendencies render increasingly difficult. Conversely, the EU will have to remain involved in the area, and be even more aware of its role as primary regional stabilizer. The classic practice of post-conflict resolution – of a quick international mission to keep the peace and to impose orde r and a freshly legitimised government, and then let the locals get on with it – does not work in a region whose élites are strongly committed to Euro-Atlantic integration – even if they may not be aware of the full cost of their aspirations or of the likely timescale.

Still, a realistic assessment of the results – only partially positive – achieved in recent years is clearly needed , together with a new effort in overcoming a crisis-driven approach and in defining the premises of a political framework providing for the stability of the entire region .

This paper will survey the immediate and longer-term political challenges, first looking at the countries of the region and then at the international actors, primarily the EU, making a number of suggestions that should be part of a common regional agenda.

The state of the nations

Albania continues to make good progress from a bad starting position. The elections of this year were far from perfect, but the general impression of international monitors seems to be that this was not due to deliberate manipulation. The Albanian government played a positive role in the recent conflict in Macedonia – the first Balkan ethnic conflict where the insurgents were not backed by their “mother country”. Clearly today’s Albanian leaders have decided that their interests lie in playing not the nineteenth century game of territorial aggrandisement, but the twenty-first century game of Euro-Atlantic integration. In general, therefore, the instrument of Stability and Association Agreements is generating a virtuous policy cycle. The biggest political challenge here is to integrate the opposition Democratic Party into the political system, but that depends much more on the mood of its leader than on anything that the government, let alone the international community, can do.

In Croatia, there is a sense that while the Croatian government is far in advance of the preceding Tudjman regime, it has not fulfilled all the hopes that were expressed when it came to power. The leading party is the reformed communist SDP, which controls most of the key ministries. Its pro-reform image has been partially weakened. The Minister for European Integration resigned in April, unable to get government approval for greater autonomy for the distinctive political culture of his home region, Istria. The President, whose office has been stripped of many of the executive powers enjoyed by his predecessor, has become an influential voice for reform but has sometimes appeared to be in opposition to his own government.

Meanwhile, the government has worried more about securing itself against attack from the right. A series of confused signals about cooperation with the International Crimes Tribunal in the Hague resulted in the dramatic resignation of the leader of the Social Liberals, the SDP’s most important partner in the government coalition, and the runner-up in last year’s presidential election. Still, the departure of the strongest nationalist voice in the government and the manifest disunity of the Croatian right wing opposition leave the government broad margins in which to challenge the forces of nationalism.

Macedonia has astonished all of us this year; first, that conflict broke out when it did in February and again in April, and then, that the conflict was in fact prevented from spiralling into a full-scale war, largely as a result of European and American mediation which culminated in the Ohrid Agreement, and NATO’s mission to disarm the Albanian fighters. The immediate challenges are to restore the control of the Macedonian security forces in the formerly rebel-held areas, while simultaneously implementing the agenda for reform in the Ohrid Agreement.

One positive sign came from Macedonia’s Parliament (September 24), that approved in principle 15 constitutional amendments underpinning the peace agreement. The agreement, yet, has still to pass the t est of final ratification (requiring a two-thirds majority) and could unravel should it be put to a referendum. In the meantime, a military presence – conceived as a protection for the monitoring mission, but in fact acting as a “political” guarantee against the possibility of new clashes – will remain necessary. It is encouraging, then, that NATO has decided for a follow-on-force, led by Germany – even if the size of the force is probably too small. Still, negative perceptions from local actors persist: “most ethnic Macedonians suspect that NATO’s role will be little more than cosmetic at best – and an instrument of partition at worst” – a judgment frequently reversed in Macedonian Albanians’ eyes.

There are, moreover, serious challenges ahead in the medium term. Elections, always a possible source of tension, are due in January. The result is likely to be the election of a number of inexperienced but radical politicians from both the main ethnic groups, and a substantial weakening in the parliamentary strengths of the parties which signed the agreement. The new government will be expected to implement a tough reform agenda, including issues on use of Albanian as an official language, reform of the boundaries of local government units, and changes to the structure and personnel of the security forces – this on top of the much delayed economic reform measures which are necessary to take advantage of the opportunities offered by Euro-Atlantic integration.

The European Union, on behalf of the international community as a whole, should appoint a Special Representative as a standing mediator in the implementation of the peace agreement. This person would coordinate the activities of the various international agencies in Macedonia, effectively protecting the considerable political and financial investments that have been made in keeping the country together. He or she must also be a public face for the international community, a first point of contact for Macedonian media and politicians.

Of course, this is the role originally envisaged for the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, an office which has since developed to the point that its holder is now effectively a legislative authority. That “mission creep” happened because the key local players in Bosnia never seriously intended to implement the Dayton Peace Agreement of 1995. The difference in Macedonia is that the necessary commitment is present from the local actors, even if they are deeply distrustful of each other’s motives. An external mediator is necessary to endure that obstacles in the road do not become permanent roadblocks. (Incidentally the international community should drop its inconsistent insistence on the use of the nonsense term “FYROM”. Interestingly this was one of the demands of both ethnic Albanian and Macedonian negotiators at Ohrid.)

Last year’s elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina replaced obstructionist political leaders with a new cohort committed in their different ways to implementing the Dayton Agreement. This is a crucial test; if the current leadership cannot get Bosnia working under the Dayton structures, they will have proven inadequate to the task. For now, their objectives have certainly not been reached: “refugee returns have not occurred at a level sufficient to restore the pre-war diversity, cooperation between the élite of the three groups is still the exception rather than the norm, and the economic situation is dire, with the majority of the citizens unemployed.” Given this legacy, some argue that the Bosnian Constitution failed a number of critical tests long ago, and should be drastically restructured as a matter of urgency.

However, it is difficult to imagine a process which will result in the sorts of revision that are being sought, if only because the desires of the actors are contradictory. To simplify drastically, there is a Sarajevo view that the Republika Srpska must be abolished. But for this to get through the Bosni an Constitution process, the consent of Banja Luka is necessary, which seems unlikely to happen. In the meantime, western Herzegovina would prefer not to abolish the Republika Srpska but to create a third entity. Of course, an international treaty could impose a new constitution directly, as indeed did the Dayton Agreement. In the post-September 11 environment, it is difficult to see the necessary international resources being made available for this task.

A possible way forward is to increase coordination among both the local governmental structures and the international organisations in the country. There is no formal provision in Dayton for regular meetings between the various levels of the Bosnian government. That should, on the contrary, be formalised and institutionalised.

The High Representative’s concept of slimming down the international presence, and incidentally bringing more of it under his direct control, is a good one. The extra powers that have accrued to his office – in legislation and in removing elected officials for obstruction of the agreement – were necessary. But the results were paradoxical in terms of democratic control, which cannot be ignored. If the aim is to create a democratic Bosnian political culture rooted in European values, the High Representative must be prepared to explain his decisions, in person if necessary, to the parliamentary assemblies whose legislative inertia he has to short-circuit, and perhaps even to submit his dismissal of elected officials to the Bosnian constitutional court.  

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia presents, one year after the fall of Milosevic, a number of fundamental challenges: political (as demonstrated by the profound crisis in the DOS – Democratic Opposition of Serbia); economic (with a continued slow-down in production); and, most of all, institutional. The present situation, with different levels of government overlapping in a not particularly transparent or accountable way, is reminiscent of the Bosnian situation with the difference that this tangle was designed by local actors rather than the international community. Created in 1992 by the Serbs and Montenegrins in power as a response to the second Yugoslavia’s process of dissolution, and modelled on a power-sharing agreement among the élites of Podgorica and Belgrade, the FRY is today an institutional mess. According to UN Security Council Resolution 1244, the Yugoslav authority in Kosovo is suspended; the territory is being administered by UNMIK. In Montenegro, the government majority is openly in favour of creating an independent state and, following last October’s election boycott, is no longer represented in the federal institutions which, at the moment, essentially duplicate the Serb Republic’s institutions.

Moreover, the institutional problem overlaps the political one in relations between the Serbian Prime Minister and the President, Mr Kostunica. It seems that, among DOS members, there is a tacit agreement that elections in Yugoslavia, in case of its survival, as well as in Serbia, should be held in Spring 2002. In the meantime, the relations between Serbia and Montenegro might be settled, either by passing a new federal or confederal Constitution, or by a separation of the two republics, preceded by a referendum on the status of Montenegro in the Yugoslav federation (which is likely to be held in April 2002). In the meantime, again, the Serbian Parliament is to pass a draft Serbian Constitution (envisaging the essential decentralization of Serbia) and then call for elections in Serbia (in spring 2002, according to some sources from DOS, or in the following autumn, according to others).

Montenegro may in theory make and ratify a deal with Serbia which retains a common international personality for the two. There is a surprising amount of common ground between the two on defence policy, on control of finances, even on common citizenship. But a strong element of division remains: will there be a single Yugoslav seat at the United Nations, or will there be two seats, one for Serbia and one for Montenegro? Probably the Montenegrins can be persuaded to drop their demand in exchange for a reward; but it’s not clear that Serbia has the resources, or that the international community has the will, to find what this reward is and grant it.

Some policy makers in Belgrade and elsewhere indulge in wishful thinking that a different Montenegrin government might cut a swift deal with the Serbian and Yugoslavian governments and resolve this issue. It should be noted that the alternative party of government in Montenegro is already in coalition with DOS at the Federal level, a relationship that has not proved particularly enjoyable for either side. The failure of Kostunica’s attempt to organize a meeting in Belgrade with Djukanovic and Vujanovic – who refused the presence of Federal Prime Minuster Dragisa Pesic, from the SNP – reveals the extent of existing difficulties.

In any case, a majority – even if a slim one – of the votes cast in the last Montenegrin election were for parties supporting independence. Even if enough of them change their minds for a change of government to be brought about, there will remain a strong pro-independence faction, which can only be dissolved if a new Serbia-Montenegro federation brings immediate demonstrable benefits to Montenegro. It should also be noted that Belgrade’s attitude is rather cool: Kostunica himself has often stressed that should reform of the federal framework prove impossible, Serbia would seriously consider Montenegro’s secession (on his part Djindjic has accused Kostunica of having unconstitutionally broken off talks with Montenegro, thus showing how the issue plays in the domestic in-fighting)

In November, Kosovo will elect for the first time an internationally recognised parliament and government. There is some wishful thinking in Belgrade that the international community might in the end declare its mission over, withdraw UNSC resolution 1244 and restore Yugoslav control (the Presevo Valley is seen as a precedent here). In fact it is impossible to imagine UNSC Resolution 1244 being replaced by any structure which does not have the consent of the people of Kosovo, and it is impossible to see them consenting to remain in the same state as Belgrade. The question is, how and when do we move from a situation of a protectorate where Yugoslav sovereignty is about as fictional as was Ottoman sovereignty over the various protectorates of the nineteenth century, to a position where Kosovo’s place in the international community is unambiguous? For the time being, Resolution 1244 is based, as is well known, on an intentional ambiguity: respecting the will of the Kosovar population as regards their final status (which the Albanian-Kosovar community interprets to mean holding a referendum for independence) and maintaining Yugoslav sovereignty over Kosovo. The two provisions are clearly unreconcilable in the medium term.

Many in Kosovo seem to believe that somehow the international community can simply grant their independence. At present there is little chance of this. Quite apart from the unlikelihood of getting Russia and China to agree to any such declaration from the UN Security Council, the EU and US are not inclined to support such a move at present -and the more so in the post-11 September strategic environment. The key to Kosovo’s independence lies in Belgrade. If Kosovar politicians want a final solution, they will have to talk to the governments of Yugoslavia and Serbia – starting a process that the UE could facilitate; but they have so far shown no inclination to do so. If they want some support from the West, they will have first of all to show that they are serious about protecting the rights of Serbs in Kosovo – including the architectural heritage of the Orthodox Church – and that they are seriously opposed to organised crime and to the destabilisation of neighbouring states. Much will depe nd on the actions of the government elected in November.

There are fears in some quarters that an independent Kosovo could lead to a greater Albanian state. It is worth noting that no politician of importance in either Tirana or Pristina shows any interest in this proposition. If a union between Kosovo and Albania is felt to be such an undesirable development, a clause could be inserted into the Kosovo constitution similar to that in the Austrian Basic Law forbidding any unification with Germany. (However, note the case of Eastern Rumelia, mentioned again below.)

The relations between Serbia and the Federal Yugoslav government seem to be linked increasingly – as stated above – to the relations between the Prime Minister of the former and the President of the latter. However, the lack of coherence of the institutional framework puts at risk not only the good governance of Serbia but also the popular legitimacy of the whole system. The continued pedantic disputes over legitimacy threaten the momentum towards the necessary reforms, clearly mandated by the people of Serbia in last year’s elections. The dead wood of the past must be cleared away. This includes the President of Serbia, himself an indicted war criminal, and the remnants of the old regime in the security and military establishment.

It is worth noting that President Kostunica is one of a number of politicians in the region who are democrats and open to European integration, while filtering their views of the European integration process through their attachment to nationalist goals and ideals. Europe should have no quarrel with nationalism per se, but with ethno-nationalism. The task of European integration is to persuade nationalists that it is better to build a common home with their neighbours than fight them – this latter attitude would in fact prevent both regional and “vertical” integration within the Euro-Atlantic institutions. This argument has succeeded in giving the many nationalist traditions within the EU a strong European base, and there is no specific reason why it should not also work, over time, in the Balkans.

The EU response

The awful events of September 11 have already affected international resources available for the region. Provided that conflict can be contained in the region, the US will concentrate its efforts elsewhere, and allow Europeans (and especially some of them, including Italy and Germany) increasingly to carry the burden of peace-keeping in the Balkans, whether as NATO or as some other configuration. The British-led Operation Essential Harvest in Macedonia is being replaced by a much smaller German-led force.

Attempts to link Osama bin Laden to the current activities of organised crime in the region have not been particularly convincing. It is a matter of record that the Albanian government, in collaboration with the FBI, expelled a number of his supporters in 1998 and 1999; there is no evidence that they have returned. Islamic fundamentalism’ roots in the Balkans are not particularly deep, and most Muslims in the region tend to be more pro-American than their Orthodox neighbours – hardly promising recruitment material for the al Qaeda network. Still, the existence of terrorism’s connections in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia has been recently underlined by President Kostunica, in a clear attempt to relaunch the role of Belgrade as the main interlocutor in the region for the new international coalition.

Closer cooperation between the US and Russia in the fight against international terrorism may influence NATO’s enlargement. Should this prove the case, NATO may either go for a smaller enlargement or put the whole issue in a completely new perspective, one that may eventually include Russia itself. At next year’s Prague summit, South-Eastern Europe applicants will in any case be left behind (except for Slovenia). A realistic security structure for the region is badly needed – and will have t o be based upon the logic and mechanisms of “coooperative security”.

In the case of the EU, the process of enlargement will likely end up with the announced “big bang”, encompassing Central Europe and the Baltics. For different reasons, such countries as Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey will face bigger hurdles. The result will be a geopolitical cleavage between a basically integrated Central Europe and a less stable South-Eastern region. To reduce this cleavage, new and ad hoc stabilisation policies will have to be devised in the Balkans, combining a comprehensive regional approach and more targeted country programmes, well beyond pre-accession strategies.

The need to review policies that have been followed until now originates from two additional considerations. First, the EU will have to find a new equilibrium among its budgetary priorities (for example, it will experience new demands for humanitarian aid in the wake of possible operations against terrorist sanctuaries in the Middle East); and it will be forced to provide better cost efficiency for resources destined for the Balkans. Second, the legacy of the last few years does not suggest, apart from isolated results, sufficient progress towards a viable regional framework – despite the fact that most of the problems are regional in nature and the key problems will require regional solutions.

Several proposals have emerged in this context, which follow here in synthetic form.

First, the proposal of an international conference for the Balkans, to sort out the remaining status issues (Montenegro, Kosovo and in some variations Bosnia) à la Berlin Congress 1878. The newly re-mapped countries of the Balkans would then dedicate themselves to the Helsinki and ECHR principles, on which, after all, European integration is founded. The case for a stability based on state borders coinciding with ethnic ones is not convincing: the tensions running through most states and para-states in the Balkans are always due to more complex causes, of which ethnicity is an important, but not exclusive, component. The process of further “controlled” disintegration would in any case present serious risks: it would more likely create new claims and disputes and revitalize the potential for conflicts. The precedent of the Berlin Congress is not, for its part, a very happy one. Consider for instance the brief history of the state of Eastern Rumelia, shaved off Bulgaria at Berlin in 1878 but absorbed by that same country seven years later in defiance of the Great Powers. The broader point, however, is clearly that no external actor today seems to be willing to impose a comprehensive political arrangement to an entire region essentially ignoring the preferences of the local actors.

The logic of an International Conference sounds completely different in the proposals – made in some capitals – according to which the Conference would sanction a new regional integration process . According to some of these hypotheses, both the future of Kosovo and Montenegro are “negotiable” if seen in the light of a “consistent regional policy and framework,” based on clear political principles and conditionalities, and on the explicit recognition of existing connections between one crisis and another.

However, there is a notable degree of ambiguity between those who expect the Conference to offer definitive sanctions on the territorial status quo (a thesis Russian diplomacy seems to favour) and those who believe a conditional “independence” possible. And it remains quite evident that several countries in the area remain reluctant to adopt a regional perspective that is considered somehow damaging in relation to the option of direct vertical integration into the EU.  

While it may be relatively easy to clarify the second point – the EU would have to make clear that a regional approach favours and does not damage prospects for individual candidates – the first remains cruci al. It is obvious, in fact, that the result of negotiations between the parties – facilitated by the international community, and first of all by the EU – must necessarily be open to an eventual agreement between the same parties, based on the respect for a series of fundamental principles (such as not using force; minority rights; human rights, etc). If this were not the case, the Conference would only end up encouraging the escalation of existing conflicts. Following this line, it could be said that “the option of independence is not incompatible with international policy if current borders are respected (i.e. upgraded to state borders, but not changed geographically) and if independence is the result of a fair negotiating process.” Recent Balkan history, in any case, suggests that “neither an unrelenting implementation of the principle of self-determination and the ideal of ethnically homogeneous nation-states, nor a dogmatic defence of the status quo states offers long-term prospects for regional stability.”

The latter assumption inspires a new variation of the “regional-first” theory, put forward in a recent widely-leaked “non-paper” by the German Foreign Minister, suggesting inter alia a new set of working groups (reminiscent of the Stability Pact), the creation of a regional economic union or “EEA II”, and the inclusion of “state-like entities” as recognised actors alongside national governments in a regional negotiating process facilitated by the international community. This position is worth discussing, even if building an international consensus around it will be no mean feat. The “EEA II” concept is useful – as argued futher below; yet the idea of a regional economic union, including all the former Yugoslav countries minus Slovenia plus Albania, has already been rejected by the governments concerned.

The German “non-paper” seems to indicate unease with the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe, which had failed to deliver on the hype of 1999, and has not become the central motor for international assistance to the Balkans, let alone the “new Marshall Plan” that it at first promised to be. In fact the Stability Pact has had something of a comeback in recent months. Its Regional Table meeting in June set much more modest and achievable objectives, clearing out some of the institutional dead wood that it had acquired in its brief existence. Its role appears to be in facilitating regional cooperation programmes, often in cooperation with the South East Europe Cooperation Process (SEECP), such as the network of bilateral trade agreements between all the countries of the region agreed in the summer. (It should be noted that this regional economic initiative followed the unilateral opening of EU markets to the countries of the Balkans in late 2000.)

The new modesty of the Stability Pact is welcome, but a few more improvements could be made. The new Special Coordinator to be appointed in January should have a clearer EU mandate – technically the present holder of the job is EU Special Representative, but in fact he is accountable to everybody and nobody. Such a European Special Representative could also ensure the coherence of EU policies vis-à-vis the accession candidates and other states of the region (inclu ding Moldova, which is now a full member of the Stability Pact). This involves key issues, such as trade, euro-isation, infrastructure, and the movement of persons, for which the region is a natural whole. At present, EU policies for accession candidates and other countries are treated as being in different boxes, with negative effects such as the imposition of strong visa controls on Hungary’s borders with Romania and Serbia (i.e. Vojvodina), and such as the difficulty of funding transnational infrastructure projects when the money has to come from different pots.

The European Union is of course the key actor in all of this. The EU’s Commissioner for External Relations has said that the Balkans are a critical test of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. He and the High Representative for the CFSP together have turned around the EU’s efficacy in the region, as demonstrated for instance by the delivery of heating fuel to Serbia in the last winter of Milosevic’s rule, by the containment of the Presevo Valley conflict, or by the direct EU involvement in putting together both the Macedonian government coalition and the Ohrid Peace Agreement. The European Agency for Reconstruction and the CARDS regulation have been useful innovations. And the central international policy for the region is the EU’s Stabilisation and Association process.

However the problem still remains that many in the region perceive the EU’s member states acting in competition, and selecting clients from among the Balkan countries (and indeed peoples). There is a certain element of truth in this, but it is a very different situation from the Balkanisation of the nineteenth century. Most of the time, the EU and its allies are in fact acting together, and do tend to take each country on its own merits, even if it is not obvious to observers in the Balkans.

The EU needs to boost its visible cohesion in the region. Compare the massive and well-equipped US embassies in each capital with the tiny European Commission delegations and the crowd of EU bilateral embassies, all busy duplicating each others’ political reporting. EU member states and delegations should begin to consolidate their diplomatic representations in the region. Even locating into the same, or neighbouring, buildings would be a start.

Also, the EU needs to improve the transparency of its policies to the people of the region. At present, glossy brochures are produced demonstrating the soundness of EU policies in each Balkan country; these documents are available to those citizens who happen to drop into EU delegations and find the table on which they have been placed. It is insufficient. There should be regular articles, written in the names of senior EU political figures, published in the newspapers of the region, and explaining what is really going on – even responding directly to criticism.

The practice of writing exhaustive annual reports on each candidate country’s readiness for EU membership should be extended to the Western Balkan countries as soon as it is practical to do so. The annual accession reports have become a credible tool for reform in the Central and Eastern European countries, partly because they are so comprehensive but mainly because they are fair, measuring each country objectively by the same standards. The old Regional Approach to the Western Balkans included the writing of very brief annual reports on each country of the region, but even these appear now to have trickled to a halt.

The Stabilisation and Association Process is at the core of the European policy. It is basically an update of the Europe Agreements of the 1990’s, taking into account the new competencies the EU has acquired at Maastricht and Amsterdam, and also (but too vaguely) prodding the countries of the region into cooperation with each other. Full membership in the EU should follow perhaps a decade after signing the Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAAs). For those countries t hat have serious governments, such as Albania and Croatia – and hopefully soon Macedonia again – it is well designed. However, there are three problems which must be faced; two of which are conceptual difficulties of the process itself, and the last being a more general issue with wider implications.

First, we return to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Brussels view of the Stabilisation and Association Process is that an SAA must be signed with the whole of the FRY, and thus Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo proceed together. It will be difficult for FRY to sign if all three are not ready at the same time. The speed of integration for all three, if they remain in FRY, is therefore going to be conditioned on the progress of the slowest member of the convoy – a policy which violates the logic of European integration, and which actually encourages separatism from Montenegro and Kosovo (and indeed Serbia) whatever the General Affairs Council may declare to the contrary. If the EU is serious about wanting to keep the FRY together, it will have to find a way of integrating sub-state entities; there are models on the shelf from Gibraltar, the Faroes and the Åland Islands, and the recent studies of Kaliningrad, and it may turn out to be useful elsewhere as well.

Second, we must consider the protectorates, Bosnia and Kosovo. Here the EU has basically been both writing and to a large extent imposing legislation through the High Representative and UNMIK. Even the new Kosovo government elected in November will be expected to enact legislation largely drafted by EU experts. The Stabilisation and Association Process expects the EU on one side to negotiate with a sovereign government on the other; but what if the EU is actually on both sides of the table? If the government of Croatia or Albania, say, were to decide that they did not want to participate in the Stabilisation and Association Process any longer, policy-makers would presumably shrug their shoulders and allow them to linger in the half-life currently endured by Belarus, provided only that they did not stir up trouble with their neighbours. But in the case of Bosnia and Kosovo, the EU also shares responsibility for the government and for its ability to engage in the process. Democratic paradoxes take on special relevance here.

Finally, the perspective of full EU membership for any of these countries is distant. If Romania and Bulgaria cannot hope to join before 2007, what date can we conceive for Croatia, or, with the best will in the world, Bosnia? Yet in the meantime we will expect them to engage in economic reforms, to enact the acquis communautaire, and to try and catch up with the EU which will itself presumably continue to develop its capabilities and responsibilities.

The concept of an “EEA II” is potentially useful here. The strength of the EEA of course is not that it commits Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein to certain joint actions, but that it links all three with the European Union. Presumably before any of the Balkan countries is ready for full membership, they will be expected to participate in the single market (as do the EEA countries), in the EU monetary system (as do Bosnia and Bulgaria via currency boards, and Montenegro and Kosovo more directly), in the EU customs union (which already includes Turkey) and perhaps also in Schengen (which Norway has recently joined). As a complement to these measures, the EU should support some bottom-up processes, based upon connections between Western European and local non-governmental actors.

But this may not be good enough to sustain momentum among the governments of the region. In addition to the “EEA II” measures outlined above in a regional logic, the Laeken process should consider that the Stabilisation and Association Agreements could in fact evolve into a kind of partial membership, a stepping stone on the path of integration to reward reform efforts from countries which have made considerable progress but which ar e not yet ready to assume the burdens of full membership. Gradually, these agreements could be expanded to include the election of non-voting members of the European Parliament, non-voting representation in other EU meetings, and the right of employment in EU institutions for nationals of the countries concerned. Obviously, all this means a useful and meaningful broadening of the concept of European citizenship – provided specific conditions are met. Current events reinforce this logic: the responsiveness of the countries in the region to the evolving “third pillar” acquis will assume even greater importance – which could delay the timing of full membership. No state should have to remain for long in this second-best status, but it will help demonstrate to a sceptical public that the integration process can deliver.

, Research Fellow

For an in-depth analysis, see CEPS

Europa South East Information Centre.  

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