Europe’s engagement in the Western Balkans

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

It is the people of the Western Balkans themselves who hold the key to the region’s future, according to research carried out by the University of Trier for its project for the website ‘Deutsche Aussenpolitik’.

Following the publication of the latest progress reports on the Western Balkan countries, and with the “troika” of the EU, US and Russia to report back to the UN concerning negotiations on Kosovo on 10 December, the publication Foreign Policy in Dialogue takes up the topic in a series of essays entitled: “State-building and regional cooperation in the Western Balkans: Europe’s engagement twelve years after Dayton”.

The central preoccupation of the November publication is the extent to which the Western Balkans have begun to move beyond the ‘Dayton agenda’ (a 1995 peace agreement ending the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina), which “focused on coexistence along ethnic lines”, towards a ‘European agenda’ of “cooperation and integration across ethnic lines”.

Marco Overhaus points out that the five different contributions in this volume “draw a mixed picture of success and failure of the European and international engagements in the Western Balkans”:

Bjoern Kuehne gives a positive assessment of the achievements of the stability pact for south-eastern Europe. He concludes that despite the setbacks and failures of the pact’s stated goals, it is “on its way towards the successful transferal of competences to the regional actors in 2008”.

Dušan Relji? considers the membership perspective and the related stabilisation and association process to be the EU’s most powerful tools to “induce far-reaching political, economic and societal reforms in the Balkan countries”. Nonetheless, he criticises the neglection of these tools due to “enlargement fatigue”, which he urges the EU to overcome.

Examining “Europe’s state-building efforts” in Bosnia and Kosovo, Vedran Dzihic identifies a triple transition “from war to peace, from humanitarian aid to self-supporting economic development, and from socialist political systems to democracy and free-market economies” as a crucial reason why these countries lag behind in terms of “democracy and sustainable economic development”. He pleads for a broader democratisation of the region, with more emphasis on the people as such, “irrespective of their ethnic background”.

Macedonia could be a “model case for multi-ethnic state-building”, with democratic diversity, a social and economic balance and a new constitution, writes Veton Latifi. He concludes nevertheless that the country has so far failed to fulfill this role, because Macedonia’s “elites have so far resisted accepting the reform agenda”.

On EU security and defence policy (ESDP), Overhaus claims that  the new Reform Treaty “is likely to give the coherence of Europe’s security presence another boost, but much of the ESDP’s dynamism will continue to be generated by practical solutions and operational coordination, rather than from grand institutional design”.

All the contributions reach the same conclusion: Firstly, the Dayton agenda is far from being accomplished. Secondly, the EU faces the difficult challenge of striking a balance between a renewed and robust engagement in the Western Balkans and the need to make reform efforts locally self-supporting.

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