Last December, a distinguished British-American scholar told me that his grandfather, who was a local politician in a small town in Briton and who did not have a deep knowledge about the global politics, was nevertheless know to everyone in that small town as an expert on world politics. He gained this reputation because he would often say "in the spring the Balkans will face conflict," and he was almost always right.
I mention this story for two reasons: first, to reflect on the difficult history of this European region and, second, to show that often it is much easier to predict the future for this region than it is to explain recent or past developments. Here, I will try to keep the focus on the difficult part––I will try to explain why recent developments unfolded as they have. I argue that in order to create a sustainable peace and integrate the Balkans into the rest of Europe, there is a stark need for capacity building and education throughout the region.
The Western Balkan region has three chronic problems. First, none of the states that comprise the region have the capacity to function at a reasonable level. Second, there is little co-operation between these state and no realistic long-term strategies of how to build cooperation. Finally, the entire region continues to suffer economically and is in desperate need of reforms that create a sustainable economic and social base in each country.
GDP is a good first indicator to get an overall sense about the development stage of a country. Comparing GDP rates of the countries of the Western Balkans illustrates the diversity of the region and the disparity among neighboring countries. The highest GDP in the region is in Croatia, with more than 6,000 euro per capita per year, while the lowest GDP can be found in Kosovo, at about 1,000 euro per capita per year. Factoring in the informal economy, the real GDP should be something higher than the statistics indicate. Distinctions also arise when looking at the map in terms of where the countries of the region are regarding the EU-integration process. Two groups can be clearly identified: in the first group of candidate countries are Croatia, Turkey and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, while in group of potential candidates includes Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia.
All of the Western Balkan countries would like to believe that EU membership is no longer a question of ‘if,' but of ‘when.' However, just as other member states, the countries of the Western Balkans will need to meet the same membership criteria before they can qualify. The membership criteria, which are often referred to as the ‘Copenhagen Criteria' consist of:
• stability of institutions, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
• functioning market and competitive economy;
• the ability to take on the obligations of the EU membership.
In an effort to support the integration process, both within these countries and in the region as a whole, the European Commission has planed to spend approximately 4 billion euros between 2007 and 2011. This funding, called the pre-accession instrument (IPA), and is by far the largest amount provided by the EU to any region in the world. However, the amount of foreseen support for the Western Balkans hardly seems sufficient when one considers that it is the equivalent to 30 euros per capita per year. EU enlargement experts argue that the EU should adapt its enlargement strategies so that they address the specific situation in the Western Balkans.
Because the countries of the Western Balkans have made little progress in recent years on EU integration, many experts argue that the EU should rethink its enlargement strategy. On the one hand, there is the argument that the conditional approach that brought Central European countries into the EU is not working in the Western Balkans. On the other hand, the European Union's capacity to enlarge to include the Western Balkans seems to be exhausted. Additional barriers to enlargement continue to pop up, such as the amendment to the French Constitution requiring a national referendum to be held on any future EU expansion following that of Croatia. The good news for the Western Balkans may be that the French government has again initiated the procedures to change this rule introduced shortly before the unsuccessful referendum on the EU's constitution. This provides yet another example of how much more complex the process has become since the last wave of enlargement, since it now depends on political developments within the EU as well. In other words, it seems as though the Western Balkan countries have missed the "easy train" to the EU.
In addition to EU support for the Western Balkans, support has been sent from other countries as well, including the US, Japan and Canada. For example, US aid for the region in the phase immediately following the conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo was much greater than other post-war countries throughout the world. This illustrates that the familiar claim that the Europeans are the payers and the Americans are the players in the Balkans is not entirely true. Experience shows that the combination of American hard power and European soft power has worked well in the Balkans. Europeans should also recognize that whenever something difficult had been done in the Balkans, it was done through US leadership. At the rhetorical level, the United States and the European Union have identified rule of law and democracy promotion as strategic priorities for transatlantic cooperation in the region. The two partners have recently cooperated closely in the Western Balkans on the final status of Kosovo.
I join the many scholars and policy makers who have underlined the need for multi-level cooperation and reconciliation in the region. However, I do not have a clear recipe for how cooperation could lead to sustainable results when regional actors do not create basic preconditions for successful cooperation, such as mutual recognition of states as equal partners. No example illustrates this more clearly than the relationship of Serbia and Kosovo, which shows how difficult is to achieve cooperation and reconciliation.
The lack of real accountability of both international and local authorities, and the arbitrary implementation of the rule of law has not helped the democratization process. Western Balkan countries are still weak states with ethnically divided societies. Instead of achieving democratic ownership, countries such Bosnia and Herzegovina or Kosovo remain international protectorates. Kosovo in particular is faced simultaneously with economic transition and a nation-building process, which pose huge political, social and economic challenges. Today, Kosovar society is at a turning point, hoping to move from this transitional phase to an open society.
Croatia, Macedonia, and Albania have achieved a much higher degree of political stability, with a clearer perspective. By contrast, Serbia seems paralyzed at the crossroads between two incompatible choices: 19th century ethno-nationalism and European integration. The Western Balkan region merits unlimited support for a stable future. The best support for the people living in Serbia is to recognize the independence of Kosovo. Sending unclear signals to the people living in the region would only be a further boon for nationalistic politicians. The political and economic future of the Western Balkans is primarily a matter of the EU integration process: the interventions in the Balkans during the 1990s will be justified only if all countries in the region, sooner rather than later, become EU and NATO member states.
Last February's declaration of Kosovo's independence, based on the, and its prompt recognition by many countries is closing a chapter of European history. Three guidelines led this process: first, the international community excluded the option of returning Kosovo to Serbian control, as it was before 1999 or changing Kosovo's borders and would not allow Kosovo to form a union with neighbouring states. Thus, Kosovo has declared its sovereignty in coordination with the key players of the international state community and not in a unilateral manner. It would serve the interests of every state in the Western Balkan region to recognize the reality and to look forward to EU and NATO integration as key factors for stability in this region. This is the only way to achieve a win-win situation for all the countries of the region and for the international community involved in this region as well. Unfortunately, it is difficult to disregard the strong emotions that are the result of the region's long history. But it is also important to realize that the emotional tone that has dominated politics in the Western Balkans is also the cause of the wars and conflicts there, and this cycle should be brought to an end.
Serbia's plan to create a "functional partition of Kosovo" has been widely rejected by the international community, by the Kosovar authorities, and by the Kosovar people (including Kosovar Serbs), since it would create a situation of permanent tension and would create dysfunctional states. The Western Balkan countries need functional states and integrated societies. The only way to achieve this is by creating strong, representative and accountable governments. In Serbia, this means that politicians should spend their energy and resources on concrete, social problems such as the economy, education and infrastructure.
The most important element in creating cooperative and democratic societies the Western Balkans is education. Increased efforts to improve the quality of education would help local economies and contribute to stability and development. However, statistics show that education and research are two of the lowest priorities in the Western Balkans' regional and domestic political agendas. As a result, many highly skilled people have left the region, which has contributed to what is known as brain-drain. If these societies are to create capable governments and achieve inter-regional cooperation and European integration, functional political elites are needed. Therefore, education plays the most important role in achieving integrated societies, cooperation and the important local ownership of the system. Countries with unstable and problematic transitions, such as in the Western Balkans, tend to become chronically dependent societies, and this offers neither a solution for the countries themselves nor for the international community which is trying to help them.
In 1991, the foreign minister of Luxembourg, Jacques Poos, proclaimed that "the hour of Europe has struck." The implication was clear—the European Community had a moral responsibility to intervene in the Yugoslav crisis in order to prevent an escalation of the conflict. Europe's difficulties in coping with the challenges posed by the disintegration of Yugoslavia were obvious for long time. Instead of preventive and solution-oriented actions, the EU has often acted only after conflicts were already underway. Today, the EU perspective of the Western Balkan countries continues to be problematic. Recent developments in the Western Balkan region (especially the independence of Kosovo) illustrate that the dissolution of Yugoslavia has finally ended. This offers the EU a second chance to take the initiative and seize the opportunities that it had missed before. The EU must find a way to speak with one voice on the Balkans and to offer a concrete roadmap for the region. Nothing less than full EU membership for the region would lead to a win-win situation for the countries in the region and the EU itself.
Simply put, the challenge of the Western Balkan countries in the twenty-first century is how to revive the state in order to provide good governance as a prerequisite for reconstruction and reconciliation of weak states and divided societies. EU integration and sustainable peace cannot be acheived in the Western Balkans without functional elites, and neither societies and nor education systems can be integrated without functional states.