Borut Grgic International Herald Tribune
SATURDAY, MAY 7, 2005
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia As European heads of state prepare to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, we need to remember that the reconstruction of Europe that began in 1945 is not yet finished. Before we can honestly say that Europe is whole, free and prosperous, there is still a job to do - in the western Balkans.
The situation in the region has not improved significantly since the signing of the Dayton Accords in 1995. Bosnia is a weak state, at best. The status of Kosovo remains undefined, and the way Europe is approaching the problem, it looks likely to remain so for some time to come - unless, of course, Kosovo Albanians take matters into their own hands and declare independence unilaterally, in which case the risk of violence and instability in the region will increase.
The question of Kosovo's future status is tense and confusing. In Kosovo, expectations are high - but so is the level of frustration. For the Serbian government, independence is a nonstarter. The official position is that Kosovo can be more than autonomous but less than independent. In reality, this doesn't mean much. Many legal experts now challenge even the premise that Serbia still holds "ownership" rights on Kosovo.
Off the record, however, the degree of cold realism in Serbia's private discourse on Kosovo is striking. The Serbs understand that Kosovo is an economic, political and demographic burden that will probably keep them out of the European Union for decades. Belgrade continues insisting on retaining Kosovo only because it is still politically profitable to do so.
All these factors point to the need for the EU to devise and implement an action plan in the Balkans. The current slow, step-by-step approach is not working, and Europe is spending valuable resources in the area that could be better spent elsewhere.
For example, Europe has stationed almost half of its deployable armed forces in the Balkan region. This bodes ill for Europe's capacity to be a serious global player, particularly in light of the EU's low out-of-area military capability.
A EU action plan for the Balkans should consist of five phases. First, the EU must define a clear common position on the final status of Kosovo and Serbia, and Serbia and Montenegro. The litmus test for this decision is a simple question: What regional framework guarantees the Western Balkans' fastest stabilization and integration into the EU? One way to start would be to look at what final configurations - states, territories or unions - would allow Balkans to become self-sustainable, which, after all, is a precondition for accession talks.
Second, the EU should insist that this preferred framework be accepted by the regional players. This kind of pressure may sound un-European, but it is necessary if the Balkans are to achieve stability. Hoping that Belgrade and Pristina can somehow agree on the final status of Kosovo in absence of external inducement is wishful thinking.
Third, the EU should adopt a Marshall Plan for the Balkans, using targeted methods to increase local political, economic and legal capacity. This would also entail a faster phasing out of international offices and personnel in places like Bosnia and Kosovo, and a much quicker transfer of responsibilities in key areas to the locals. The EU should also insist on a transfer of all responsibilities from the international level to the EU level in the next two years.
Fourth, the aim should be to have all of the Western Balkan states on the EU accession track by 2008. This agenda is ambitious but possible. There is no real added value in all the preaccession and prepartnership plans. It is absurd that while Central Asian autocracies are members of Partnership for Peace, the framework for regional security cooperation established in 1994, Bosnia and Serbia are not; nor does it make sense that Moldova is in the World Trade Organization, but Bosnia is not.
Finally, if Europe is serious about giving the Balkans a European future, it needs to change its visa policy. It is futile to preach the European dream but at the same time deny access to it. Seventy percent of Serbian students have never been outside Serbia.
The sad state of the Balkans is a stark reminder of how much work there is still to do before we in Europe can truly celebrate victory over Nazism, Fascism, totalitarianism and human oppression.
(Borut Grgic is director of the Institute for Strategic Studies, Ljubljana.)