A pivotal year for the Balkans ©
With standards review in Kosovo due this year, and the Belgrade
Agreement pushing expiration date, 2005 is a pivotal point for the
Western Balkan region and its people. This is a rare window of opportunity,
which ought not to be missed.
My feeling is that time is running out for the Balkan, and unless
things are moved forward within this year, the train called Euro-Atlantic
integration could be missed. There are other world hotspots
and regions - most notably Iraq, Iran, Central Asia, the wider Middle
East, now also Kyrgyzstan - and other pressing issues like fight
against global terrorism and WMD proliferation that are preoccupying
the US and the EU. For how much longer global attention can be sustained
in the Balkans is unclear.
Certainly instability in the Western Balkans is an EU problem,
but this fact alone is not enough to sustain European attention
and commitment. There are plenty of so called European problems,
which the EU 25 chooses not to deal with. Europe, like the US, has
a limited ability to focus on the Western Balkans. Therefore, there
are really two EU approaches I envisage for the Balkans. One possibility
is the process of rapid integration, where additional aid and political
capital is pumped into the area. The other is the process of disintegration,
where strict visa regimes, rigid spending and political isolation
become the norm.
The first is only possible if some of the open questions can be
solved this year, while Im afraid, the second is all to likely
if progress on say Kosovo future status, or progress on reforms
in SMU is not made this year. In this sense we are indeed running
out of time. For example, Western Balkans is hardly at the top of
the agenda in the EU Council discussions. It is even more seldom
mentioned in Washington. Feet-dragging on open questions can no
longer be the strategy.
Europe also has limited resources; as does the US. While fiscal
burden - both inside and outside Europe - is growing exponentially,
the EU budget is hardly expanding. It is difficult to argue that
Europe will forever find it in its interest to keep the funds flowing
to the Balkans. Without real progress, many in Brussels and other
parts of Europe may start to reconsider the value of additional
spending in the region.
Slovenia obviously has a deep interest, and a strong political
commitment to see Western Balkans fully stabilized and integrated
into the Euro-Atlantic family. In light of this official Ljubljana
has pursued a policy of integration and trade liberalization with
the Western Balkan region. We firmly stand in support of Croatias
bid to win EU accession, as well as Serbias bid to win PFP status.
We hope to see Serbia sign the Stabilization and Association Agreement
with the EU very soon. It is absurd that still today Belgrade has
no contractual relationship with the EU.
Kosovo future status is no doubt the most difficult issue to resolve,
and politically most sensitive. The fact however is, that things
have also changed on this dimension. For example, there is a new
government in Kosovo, and my feeling is that they are extremely
forward looking and pragmatic. Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi understands
the nature of the problem well, and I trust he is committed to a
stable and peaceful solution to the future status of Kosovo, which
of course also entails full and maximum protection of the Serb minority,
and an open and active dialogue with Belgrade.
Protection of minorities is the single most important standard
which Kosovo will have to meet. The international community will
not be flexible as far as minority protection goes. But we also
have to be reasonable, and acknowledge progress where progress has
been made. It is important to understand that protection of the
Serb minority will not succeed without the full participation of
the Kosovo Serbs in the political life of Kosovo.
There can obviously be no agreement without dialogue. But this
dialogue has to be active, and it should take place on the highest
political level where constructive compromise is possible.
The Balkan Commission will soon issue a report on the final status
of Kosovo. I expect their conclusions to support independence but
withhold sovereignty. I also fear that many in the international
community are leaning towards this conclusion. In light of this,
Belgrade is encouraged to engage fully and actively on all levels.
Without the engagement on the highest political level, I dont see
how Belgrade will improve its bargaining position and raise the
Montenegro is also under pressure - mostly from within. It is far
from clear that the referendum on independence, if held today, would
bring an undeniable result that would be a solid foundation of a
state. A road to independence could plunge the country into deeper
internal splits and procedural frustrations. More than the process
of separation, the region needs a new level of integration along
politico-economic lines. An agreement between the opposition and
the government on the referendum could go a long way in resolving
the disagreements in Montenegro.
In general, reforms across the region are progressing slowly. More
could be done to preserve the velocity of democratic reforms and
market liberalization, without which individual prosperity will
not change significantly. Reform processes should not be subjugated
to status discussions, though a degree of correlation between the
two is expected and also understandable.
Finally, all countries of the Western Balkans will sooner or later
have to be integrated fully into the European Union and NATO. This
is the only realistic and lasting solution which will ensure stability
and progress in the region.
Dr. Dimitrij Rupel is foreign minister of Slovenia and Chairman-in-office
of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
© Pravice pridržane.
v elektronski obliki .pdf (angleško besedilo - 29 kB )