Events

Enlargement of Empire: EU and the Balkans

November 09, 2005 // 10:30am12:00pm

The International Commission on the Balkans, for which Ivan Krastev served as rapporteur, set out to address the question, how stable is the status quo in the Balkans? Conventional wisdom has it that the Balkan region is now relatively peaceful (compared to Iraq), which would seem to indicate that the policy in place is working and does not require radical change. As the Commission reviewed key indicators in the region, however, its members grew to believe that the policies employed in the Balkans have created a system that has gradually ghettoized the Balkans and has created an inherently unstable environment.

Pessimism in the Balkans is fueled in part by poor economic performance. Foreign direct investment to foster real economic development has been pouring into soon-to-be EU neighbors Romania and Bulgaria, rather than Bosnia or Serbia. Krastev also cited the rise in criminality in the region, which is linked with the economic malaise.

At the same time, investments into the region have been huge in terms of foreign peacekeeping troops and the armies of foreigners working for international organizations, foreign governments and NGOs. This has made Bosnia-Herzegovina the greatest importer of foreign assistance per capita in the world. But rather than making things progressively better and therefore decreasing reliance on foreign assistance, in the last two years the international community has actually increased its involvement in local politics, with the Office of the High Representative holding more power than democratically elected officials.

While foreign aid has done much good, it has also contributed to some of the problems in the region. Namely, international control over government institutions lacks democratic legitimacy, which feeds mistrust in government institutions and both national and international political leaders. The result is that the international intervention in the Balkans has created non-functioning states. And the EU accession process, which has had such a positive impact on much of postcommunist Europe, can only help countries that have already achieved a reasonable level of good governance. Maintaining the status quo in the Balkans, therefore, will only widen the gap between the Balkans and the rest of Europe, creating a ghetto surrounded by the EU.

To change the status quo, the Commission's report called upon the EU to commit itself to promoting reform in the region. Because the EU cannot integrate weak or failed states, the EU must engage in "member-state" building project in the Balkans.

Vessela Tcherneva echoed Krastev's claims that the status quo in the Balkans is neither viable nor desirable. Changing the status quo means that there needs to be a new international debate on how best to tackle difficult issues, such as Kosovo's status. Yet, there has been no real attempt to reach common ground by the UN, the US or the EU on the issue of Kosovo.

The Commission's report urged the EU to take on the important role of leading the Balkan region into the EU. For Kosovo, the Commission suggested a four-stage approach. The first stage (the current phase in which all parties are looking forward to negotiations) would lead to independence for Kosovo without full sovereignty. This would mean that Kosovo would have local capacity to govern its territory, that the international community would continue to press for greater minority rights protections, but that Kosovo would not have a seat at the UN. The third stage would be to grant Kosovo a "guided sovereignty," led by the EU accession process, which would eventually lead to the fourth stage of shared sovereignty within the EU.

Such a process will not be easy to implement, however, given the realities on the ground. Kosovo's status is linked to the list of standards agreed upon by the UN, which include the creation of a functioning market, protections for minorities and their cultural property and the creation of a local police force to secure the region. Yet, this has meant that Serbs in Kosovo now live in "open-air" concentration camps, since they are continually guarded by UNMIK troops and require police escorts to leave their areas. Meanwhile, Serbia and Montenegro hold the key to resolving the Kosovo status question, and cannot be left out of the decision-making process. Tcherneva asserted that imposing a solution will not bring long-term stability.

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