A recent conference explored some of the main obstacles – deriving from both internal and external sources – that the Western Balkans faces as it integrates into Euro-Atlantic structures.
By Gerard Gallucci
The Aspen Institute of Germany and Foreign Ministry of Macedonia hosted a conference on Euro-Atlantic Integration of the Western Balkans in Ohrid, Macedonia June 14-17. Attendees came from all countries of the region plus Germany and the US. It served as an opportunity for discussion in formal and informal sessions.
Discussions were held according to Chatham House rules to preserve confidentiality but as the meeting brought together a solid group of knowledgeable and influential people, it may be useful to share some general observations that I took away from our formal and informal exchanges:
- Progress of the Western Balkans region in integrating into EU and NATO is important for all countries of the region, individually and collectively.
- The question of possible partition of Kosovo raises general concern especially as to how it might affect Macedonia. There was some debate on the legitimacy of discussing partition but also on possible approaches to settling the question of north Kosovo through affording it a special status along the line of “Ahtisaari-Plus.”
- There was a general sense that the continuing dispute between Greece and Macedonia over the country’s name is blocking progress for the region. Some noted signals of possible progress on the name issue. Others wondered about whether the probable requirement for another Greek economic bailout might give the EU some leverage for getting Athens to soften its position.
- There was consensus that NATO may no longer have the lead role in determining the future of the Western Balkans, its place having been taken by the EU. But NATO remains a stabilizing factor and provides a useful forum for discussing and coordinating security matters. NATO could also have a role in assisting in the transition in military roles towards partnering in peacekeeping. In this regard, the Western Balkans can be seen as moving from being a “security consumer “to a “security provider.”
- Serbia is not ready for NATO and should not be pushed. But its own efforts to achieve compatibility with NATO standards and to participate in peacekeeping are positive developments.
- The recent decision to grant EU candidacy and accession date to Croatia was greeted as good news but highlights the uncertainty about progress of the other Balkans countries. Countries in the region see EU membership as crucial for economic progress and lowering barriers as an alternative to focusing on boundaries.
- The EU itself seems in no hurry to move ahead with further expansion and Brussels views EU membership as a “pull’ factor not a “push” factor. For Brussels, the countries of the region know the requirements for membership and need to make the decision and show the will and commitment to meet them.
- The EU cannot accept new members with confederal or canton-ized government (read Bosnia and Herzegovina) or countries that do not recognize each other (Serbia and Kosovo). However, the Western Balkans countries themselves look for greater speed and support from the EU toward membership in the interest of stability and prosperity.
- The Greek economic crisis represents a security threat to the region as it would exacerbate existing high unemployment and lack of economic development some Balkans countries already face.
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Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. He is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Gerard is also a member of TransConflict’s advisory board. The views expressed in this piece are his own and do not represent the position of any organization.
To read other articles by Gerard for TransConflict, please click here.