Thursday, June 02, 2005

Leaders of the former Yugoslavia plead with Brussels - The Financial Times

Leaders of the former Yugoslavia plead with Brussels
By Eric Jansson in Belgrade and Stefan Wagstyl in Sarajevo
Published: June 2 2005 18:28 | Last updated: June 2 2005 18:28

Balkan leaders on Thursday urged the European Union to confirm its commitment to enlarging into the former Yugoslavia, after resounding No votes in France and the Netherlands cast doubt on the EU's future enlargement.


A June 16-17 meeting of European heads of government in Brussels could provide an opportunity for the EU to reinforce its Thessaloniki declaration of 2003, when leaders from all EU member states promised that “the future of the Balkans is within the European Union”.

But with the EU leaders focused on the upheaval caused by No votes in this week's referendums on the European constitution, Balkan leaders could be disappointed.

Radmila Sekerinska, Macedonia's deputy prime minister, said in the capital Skopje: “Enlargement is not something that should be stopped, having in mind the Thessaloniki summit, where the member states decided to proceed with the ‘open door policy' and gave clear tasks for Europe to go forward with broadening the EU.”

Boris Tadic, Serbia's president, warned that EU leaders should bear in mind the consequences that abandoning integration processes in the Balkans could bring. “All outstanding issues in our region would be much more difficult to resolve if the EU membership perspective is cancelled,” he said. The broad EU foreign policy crafted in Brussels leaves the member countries deeply involved in western Balkan affairs, and retreating would not be easy. The EU has established a military force of 6,700 soldiers in Bosnia-Herzegovina and a force of 150 EUPOL police in Macedonia. Moreover EU integration is viewed by both US and European diplomats as the most viable successor for scaled-down international regimes in both Bosnia and Kosovo, Serbia's breakaway province, a UN protectorate since 1999.

“Without the prospect of European integration, we are lost. There is a very strong integrative force. For the first time in the history of the Balkans we all have the same strategic aspiration, joining the EU. Anything that can put a question mark on that really has negative consequences,” said Zivorad Kovacevic, president of the European Movement in Serbia, a pro-European lobby in Belgrade. Adnan Terzic, the Bosnian prime minister, has also urged the EU not to hold up the country's bid to start talks on a stabilisation and association agreement the first step on the way to possible future EU membership.

“A delay would be extremely bad. It's dangerous for the simple reason that if we are left out and don't have European standards in Bosnia, Bosnian standards will come to the surface again and Bosnian standards have been disastrous for Bosnia,” said Mr Terzic. Mr Terzic was speaking before the results of the French and Dutch referendums threw the future of the EU constitution into doubt. But it was already clear that French sentiment was moving against the constitution partly because of fears of future enlargements.

Last week the European Commission warned Bosnia it would not qualify for negotiations unless it reformed the police and its public broadcasting services.

If it fails to meet the grade, Bosnia will be left behind the other countries of the Balkans in developing ties with the EU. Even Serbia and Montenegro, which was held back by concerns about its political stability and delays in dealing with alleged war crimes, last month won a recommendation from the Commission to start talks on a feasibility study. Mr Terzic appealed to the EU and Lord Ashdown, the international community's envoy in Bosnia, to give Sarajevo more credit for its achievements since the civil war ended nearly a decade ago and since it launched a programme of EU-linked reforms two years ago.

Mr Terzic said Sarajevo had fulfilled all 16 conditions set by Brussels a year ago but the Commission was “changing the rules of the game” by adding extra details to its demands.

The Bosnian prime minister also warned EU leaders against turning their back on further enlargement in spite of public criticism in western Europe. His words were echoed by Lord Ashdown who said: “Whatever the decisions on Turkey, whatever the decisions on Ukraine, the western Balkans remain in Europe. It's not in Europe's interest to have a black hole a source of conflict and drugs.”

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