Europe's unfinished business
François Heisbourg International Herald Tribune
Friday, April 15, 2005
PARIS One of the European Union's most spectacular successes has been the incorporation of former dictatorships, first in the West (Greece, Spain, Portugal) and then in the East (members of the erstwhile Warsaw Pact).
In this process of unification and integration, however, the Western Balkans represent a major piece of unfinished business. Notwithstanding its constitutional travails, the EU must and can complete the unification of the continent by focusing on the Balkans. This is a matter of urgency.
Thanks to the decisive, albeit belated, military action of NATO, peace was restored in the Western Balkans by the early part of this decade. The region's most egregiously evil leader, Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, was subsequently removed by his own people, and now has to answer for his crimes.
But the peace that prevails today in Bosnia and Kosovo is so fragile that it requires the presence of more than 20,000 NATO and EU soldiers. There, as in the other Balkan states - Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania - standards of living are dismal and high unemployment prevails against the backdrop of often appalling levels of governance.
Kosovo, and to a lesser degree Bosnia, remain wards of the international community, while Serbia-Montenegro and Albania are characterized by high levels of crime and corruption, feeding into unrequited clanism or nationalism. Croatia and, more recently, Macedonia have been doing better, though the latter doesn't yet have an internationally recognized name it can call its own - it is officially the "former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia."
While the rest of the postdictatorship countries are catching up with Western standards of economic and political life, frustration and its companion, resentment, are on the rise in the Western Balkans.
Hence the recommendations made by a group of European and American policymakers and analysts, including former President Richard von Weizsäcker of Germany and former Prime Minister Giuliano Amato of Italy. As members of the International Commission for the Balkans, we are recommending a three-tier action plan to help move the region from an uncertain peace to the road of membership in the EU and NATO.
In a first stage, to be marked by an international conference in 2006, all the countries of the region that have not already done so would be invited to participate in "Europe agreements," preparing them not only economically, but also in terms of standards of governance, for membership negotiations with the EU.
In this framework, Kosovo's final status as an independent state would be recognized, but with full sovereignty being extended only upon eventual accession to the EU. In this initial stage, Bosnia would cease to be under the ultimate authority of the international community. To participate fully in this process, Serbia and Montenegro would have to decide either to split or to unite more closely, given the inchoate nature of their loose confederation.
In a second stage, once the countries of the region had met the initial criteria for EU membership, the long and difficult accession negotiations could begin. Countries that are already meeting these conditions, such as Croatia and, no doubt quite soon, Macedonia, could move directly to this stage - provided they had also fulfilled their obligations with regard to international justice, an issue that continues to bar Croatia from entering EU negotiations.
Full membership in the EU would be the end result, the date depending on the progress made by each individual country.
It has taken 15 years to move the Baltic states and the members of the Warsaw Pact from Soviet rule to membership in the EU and NATO. It may well take 15 to 20 years to bring the Western Balkans to European standards and status.
There is no automatic ticket to joining the EU. But for Europe as for the Balkans, there is no better way to bring to a close the horrors of a century of warfare and totalitarianism. A century after the fateful shots fired in Sarajevo in June 1914, what greater prize than to have a Europe no longer hostage to homegrown instability and violence?
(François Heisbourg is director of the Foundation for Strategic Research, based in Paris, and a member of the International Committee on the Balkans.)