Since 1999, the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe has worked to foster peace, democracy, respect for human rights and economic prosperity in order to achieve stability in the entire region. Appointed as Special Coordinator for the Stability Pact by the European Union in 2001, Erhard Busek reported on the organization's progress in achieving broader regional stability and development. Europe is still struggling to break free of the way of thinking and modes of operation from the pre-1989 Cold War era, Busek explained, which had enabled the conflict in the former Yugoslavia to escalate. Today, there is clear evidence that the wider region of South Eastern Europe (SEE) is moving quickly in the right direction, though for many it does not seem to be happening quickly enough. The region must be given sufficient time, Busek advised, to recover from four wars and grow accustomed to its new map and border adjustments.
Busek focused on what has been achieved in the region over the last five years. First, free and fair elections have become the norm in every country. And while there are still gaps in their implementation, all of the countries of the region have adopted legislation to protect national minorities.
The creation of new states has created new borders and reinforced existing ones, and there has been resistance to cross border cooperation, for fear that the free movement of people and goods would resemble the former Yugoslavia. Currently, there are 31 free trade agreements in effect and the Stability Pact has been working towards consolidating them in a single free trade zone, according to the model offered by Central Europe. This would help demonstrate South Eastern Europe's readiness to be integrated into EU structures. One recent breakthrough was the signing of an international energy treaty between the EU and most of the countries of the SEE.
Rebuilding infrastructure that was destroyed by war is a clear priority as well. Appeals to the international community for funding infrastructure development have been successful, and substantial financing is available to the countries of the region. Yet, what is missing now are thoughtful, elaborated proposals to help the money reach its targets.
The Stability Pact created a migration initiative to deal with the many problems associated with refugee return, "brain drain," border management and assylum. Security has been another longstanding concern. Busek cited the Stability Pact's work on troop reductions, in an effort to downsize armies that had been expanded during wartime. Another focus has been to convert defense-related production and trade, which may have connections with terrorist organizations. As frail states, SEE has become a transit region for trafficking of heroin, stolen vehicles and counterfeit banknotes, prompting the Stability Pact to work on judicial reform as well.
The above-mentioned initiatives cover issues in which European Union law has jurisdiction. There are other problems facing SEE, however, which the EU has no authority or capacity to influence. One of these areas is education and scientific research. A coherent, centralized education structure disappeared from the region along with Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, Busek described how he has pushed this as a core objective during his tenure and managed to persuade EU member states to include the countries of the region in the Erasmus Program, which organizes student exchanges throughout Europe.
The EU also cannot influence the fact that the countries of the region are at different stages. Given their unique histories and problems, there is little that can be done to speed up reforms so that some countries can catch up with others. And holding back high-achieving countries would act as a disincentive for continuing reforms. Busek noted that the failure of the constitutional referendum in Europe should not be seen as influencing SEE's integration into European structures. After all, the referendum's failure did not effect the Thessaloniki declaration in any way.
Through his role as the Special Coordinator, Busek has also been involved in several of the important political and security challenges facing the region, in the first instance, the future status of Kosovo. Busek expects that by the end of the year a logical compromise would be a "road map" for Kosovo's future, pointing towards independence. An actual decision on full independence, in his view, is still premature and potentially destabilizing. The ultimate solution for Kosovo must come within the framework of the EU.
The Stability Pact was never intended to be a permanent institution and there is growing pressure to bring the stabilization period to a close. Through his new regional ownership initiative, Busek hopes to encourage the region to "grow up," and help the region's leaders to become responsible for their own countries' success.