Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Shaky Balkans need 'new strategy,' panel says - The International Herald Tribune

By Judy Dempsey International Herald Tribune

BERLIN A high-powered International Commission on the Balkans has issued a scathing critique of EU and UN policies in the Balkans, accusing both organizations of hindering democratic growth and warning that bleak economic and political conditions may lead to renewed instability.

"The red lights could soon start blinking if we don't take stock of the reality on the ground," said Alex Rondos, former Greek ambassador at large and member of the commission. "The region is not as stable as the EU makes out."

The commission asserts that democracy has been stifled in Bosnia "by the coercive authority" of Paddy Ashdown, the EU's high representative.

The international representatives, the commission says, "dabble in social engineering but are not held accountable when their policies go wrong. If Europe's neocolonial rule becomes further entrenched, it will encourage economic discontent and European electorates would see it as an immense and unnecessary financial and moral burden."

The commission challenged the European Union to formally offer Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia, Macedonia and the province of Kosovo a timetable for admission to the Union, warning that failure to do so could lurch the Balkans into another period of instability and leave the EU mired in the region.

The recommendations by the independent commission, made public in Europe's main capitals over the past few days, propose that in late 2006 the EU should sponsor a summit meeting "that aims to present all Balkan countries with their accession road maps."

Once the countries have met the EU's criteria on respect for human and ethnic rights, implementation of the rule of law and the introduction of a functioning market economy, the commission says these countries could start accession negotiations around 2009-2010 and be ready to join by 2014-2015.

The commission's main argument is that the EU and United Nations, two of the biggest international players in the Balkans, must start devising a long-term strategy that will move beyond the 1996 Dayton accords that stopped the five years of brutal civil and ethnic wars between Serbs, Croats and Bosnians.

It says Dayton, brokered by the United States, is inappropriate for tackling unemployment, building strong state institutions, reviving political life and getting rid of a culture of dependence created by largely unaccountable international protectorates in Kosovo and Bosnia.

"The Balkans need a new strategy if it is to translate Brussels' stated political aim to integrate the region into reality," says the 64-page report. "The commission acknowledges there are no quick and easy solutions for the Balkans and that ultimately it is up to the people of the region to win their own future. But we are convinced that the international community and the European Union in particular have a historical responsibility to face and a decisive role to play in winning the future of the region."

The commission - which includes Richard von Weizsäcker, a former German president; Giuliano Amato, a former Italian prime minister; and Kiro Gligorov, a former Macedonian president - pulls no punches in criticizing the UN and EU's performance in Kosovo and Bosnia. In Kosovo, where the NATO military alliance intervened in 1999 to stop the ethnic cleansing carried out against ethnic Albanians by President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, the commission says the international community "has clearly failed in its attempts to bring security and development to the province."

It says that UN Mission in Kosovo, the protectorate that is supported by the EU and is known as Unmik, has failed to give the Serb minority any stake in the province. "Serbs in Kosovo are living imprisoned in their enclaves with no freedom of movement, no jobs, no opportunity for meaningful integration into Kosovo society."

Over the past few years, argues the commission, "Unmik has on several occasions been actively involved in a policy of reverse discrimination in Kosovo. Under Unmik's leadership, the number of Serbs employed in the Kosovo Electric Co. has declined from more than 4,000 in 1999 to 29 now, out of a total over 8,000 employees."

Additionally, the commission says it is time that the EU and Unmik tackle head on Kosovo's status with Serbia, of which it is still constitutionally a province. "Kosovo's independence will not solve all the territory's problems, but we are concerned that postponing the status talks will lead to a further deterioration," says the report.

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