26 October 2010 - PARLIAMENTARIANS DEBATE NEW BALKAN STRATEGIES
Despite the remarkable progress achieved in the Western Balkans, a number of unresolved issues and persistent challenges remain on the path to a full normalisation of the region. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia* continues to contend with the legacy of the 2001 interethnic clashes and the dispute with Greece over the name of the country. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, persistent political blockages have hampered the adoption of key reforms, including constitutional reform, and slowed down the transition away from the mechanism of international supervision established by the Dayton Accords. Meanwhile, Pristina and Belgrade’s competing claims of sovereignty over Kosovo perpetuate an ambiguous situation with particular complications in the North. Faced with these challenges, international strategies in the region have sometimes seemed unable to provide the necessary traction to help resolve remaining issues. Adjusting these strategies and building on a positive trend in the area of regional cooperation can help create new momentum in the region.
These were the main conclusions of the 75th Rose-Roth Seminar which the NATO Parliamentary Assembly held in Skopje, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, on 19-21 October under the theme “South Eastern Europe: Creating New Momentum”. The seminar, co-sponsored by the Assembly of the
Ambassador James Pardew, former US negotiator of the Ohrid Framework Agreement for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and former NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Operations, summarized the key challenge facing the region following the bloody conflicts of the 1990s: “a great political experiment in national identity is taking place which could change South Eastern Europe fundamentally”, he explained. “That experiment is the implementation of the concept that the rights of citizenship are defined by where the individual lives and not by his or her ethnicity [….] the success or failure of this experiment may well determine whether the region can break from its divisive past”. This challenge was a key underlying theme for the three case studies discussed in the two and half days of the seminar.
Speakers and participants recognised the major progress achieved by the
However, “the attractiveness of the EU model is lost today”, Stevo Pendarovski, Assistant Professor at University American College Skopje, argued. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s path to the EU and to NATO continues to be hampered by its dispute with Greece over the name issue, a dispute that also resonates internally and has created new divides both within the ethnic Macedonian political class, and between Macedonian and Albanian leaders in the country. As one speaker put it, “negotiations about the name are not really about the name”; other key issues include the scope of the use of the name and, most importantly, underlying identity issues. Given the sensitivity of the latter, speakers and participants were generally sceptical that a resolution of this dispute was forthcoming.
In Kosovo, the security situation was assessed as calm in most areas, granting a progressive reduction of the KFOR presence, with a further decrease expected shortly from 10,000 to 5,500 troops. However, all speakers stressed that the situation in the North, where Pristina’s authority is extremely limited, remained the key problem. The prospect of new talks between
Turning to the question of international strategies in the region, speakers generally agreed that there was no need for radically new approaches. Putting into question current strategies would send a wrong signal to countries of the region, which need to see integration as a credible prospect. There was broad consensus that in NATO’s specific area of responsibility – defence reform –, impressive progress had been achieved. The accession of
Participants agreed that the EU provided deeper and broader incentives for reform than NATO in the Western Balkans. However, the EU’s adoption of enlargement as a stand-alone foreign policy in the Western Balkans was seen as having reached its limits. The combined impact of enlargement fatigue, the global financial and economic crisis and the debate over the
Speakers and participants thus stressed the importance for EU and NATO member states to speak with one voice in their relations with countries of the region. Greater synergies should also be sought between the EU and NATO at the strategic level as well as in specific practical areas.
Seminar participants also called on the EU to augment its overarching enlargement strategy with policies that would be tailor-made to the specific challenges faced by each country. The promise of membership without a clear roadmap and specific benchmarks was not enough. Promoting local ownership of reforms, particularly in
A greater focus on economic development rather than mere assistance aimed at preserving stability was mentioned as another important priority. This could also include opening the EU’s doors more widely to labour migrants from the region, one speaker suggested.
Finally, speakers agreed that regional cooperation provided a key source of new momentum in the Western Balkans. A new wave of normalisation and reconciliation, the mushrooming of practical initiatives and a growing regional ownership of cooperation mechanisms, had brought about positive dynamics which could help complete the transformation of the region.
Looking back at the past 20 years, Jovan Teokarevic, Professor at
A complete Seminar Report will be available soon on the Assembly website