27 June 2008 - NATO PARLIAMENTARIANS CONCLUDED SEMINAR IN MONTENEGRO ON EURO-ATLANTIC INTEGRATION OF THE BALKANS [Press release]
Regional reconciliation and cooperation, together with a continued engagement of the international community, are essential to full Euro-Atlantic integration of the Balkan region. This is the overarching message emerged from the debates of the 69th Rose-Roth seminar, held in Sveti Stefan, Montenegro, from 24-26 June. The meeting gathered some 40 legislators, from both NATO and partner countries, together with representatives of governments, international organizations and academia, and was organized in cooperation with the Parliament of Montenegro and with the support of the Center for European Studies and the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence at the University of Florida, as well as NATO Public Diplomacy Division.
The seminar provided a general overview of the situation in the region, the challenges it faces and its future prospects. Participants were reminded that the problems of the region still have great relevance not just to the stability and security of the Euro-Atlantic region but also to the respective futures of NATO and the EU. As both organisations are revising and updating their respective security strategies “what happens in this region will certainly influence the degree to which their goals can be realised” said former NATO PA Secretary General Simon Lunn in his introductory remarks; “because if they cannot succeed here, then how credible will their aspirations be elsewhere?”.
Leopold Maurer, Head of the European Commission office in Podgorica, re-confirmed that “the future of the Western Balkans lies in the EU”. However, the countries of the region “have the potential to accelerate their course towards eventual membership, provided they pursue the path of reforms and reconciliation, and meet the necessary conditions”. On behalf of NATO, Jaroslaw Skonieczka, Director for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Partnership, summarized the Alliance’s position on the region with the formula “stabilisation for integration”. Participants from the region, however, lamented that the EU internal problems—sharpened by the Irish rejection of the Lisbon treaty—together with the so-called “enlargement fatigue” made their countries’ path to integration considerably more distant in the future. Meanwhile, the EU dialogue on visa liberalisation, as well as student scholarships and help to civil society are considered as helpful initiatives to further economic and social development in the Balkans.
Considerable time during the seminar’s second day was devoted to the discussion of the situation in Kosovo, following the declaration of independence by Pristina last February. Pieter Feith, International Civil Representative and EU Special Representative in Kosovo, emphasized the necessary “reconciliation process” between Pristina and Belgrade, and encouraged Serbia to take practical steps “without necessarily changing its political and legal position”. Reflecting general sentiments in Belgrade, Serbian academic Jovan Teokarevic indicated that Kosovo independence without real sovereignty was comparable to a “half pregnancy”. He added that eventual further negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina could lead to the recognition of the territorial autonomy of Northern Kosovo—which is in many ways a reality on the ground—under the formula “partition for recognition”. Some Western legislators expressed their strong disagreement with such an idea, which ran contrary to the provisions of the Ahtisaari plan.
Despite Mr Feith’s confidence about the imminent deployment of EULEX (European Union rule of law mission in Kosovo), described as “the largest ESDP (European Security and Defence Policy) operation ever”, and reassurances by NATO about the continuing presence of KFOR, uncertainties about the upholding of the rule of law in Kosovo persist. Former KFOR Commander retired General Fabio Mini expressed serious concerns about the continuing role of Kosovo Albanian clans and the hazardous blend of politics and criminality. Such allegations were reinforced by Avni Zogiani of the Kosovo NGO Cohu (Wake up), who decried to the “impunity” enjoyed by “war heroes” turned politicians. Mr. Feith replied by stressing that the international community must continue to pursue a three-pronged strategy: 1) strengthening Kosovo’s self-government capacity and the rule of law; 2) encourage dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina: and 3) maintain security and stability in Kosovo.
The role of civil society in favoring reconciliation between Kosovo and Serbia, as well as throughout the whole region, was also discussed during the final day of the seminar. Civil society is not, as some in the region argue, “responsible for political instability and unrest, but actually helps to prevent and resolve conflict by opening government institutions to public input and scrutiny”, explained Catherine Messina Pajic of the National Democratic Institute in Washington DC. Developing active civil society organizations (CSOs) and encouraging grass-roots involvement of citizens is essential for post-war reconciliation and reconstruction of the social fabric, something which legislatures, governments and political parties in the region needed to become more aware of.
With specific regard to the host country, the progress of Montenegro in creating and reforming its newly independent institutions on its way to EU and NATO integration was widely praised by NATO legislators and representatives of other international organizations. Both Foreign Minister Milan Rocen and Parliament’s President Ranko Krivokapic declared that Montenegro hoped to be offered a Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the NATO Summit in Strasbourg-Kehl next Spring.