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Balkan Report: February 25, 2005


25 February 2005, Volume 9, Number 8

NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of "RFE/RL Balkan Report" will appear on 25 March.

EUROPEANS HAIL EU-U.S. RECORD IN BALKANS. Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel told the EU-U.S. summit in Brussels on 22 February that trans-Atlantic cooperation in the western Balkans is a real success story. Where things go from here remains to be seen.

Schuessel argued that cooperation between the EU and the United States in the Balkans in recent years has constituted one of the "most spectacular successes" of joint efforts between the trans-Atlantic partners, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. He noted that "the last three wars fought on the European continent took place in the Balkans," the most recent of which was in Kosova barely five years ago. Schuessel stressed that neither the EU nor the United States wants to see conflicts renewed there, adding that offering the countries of the region the prospect of possible EU membership provides all of them with a "perspective" for the future.

In recent years, he continued, all the countries in question except Serbia have made remarkable economic progress. Serbia has only now returned to the level of economic performance it enjoyed in 1999, but the other countries have recently witnessed annual growth rates of up to 50 percent. Schuessel noted that foreign direct investments in the western Balkans have grown from about $3.5 billion at an unspecified recent date to over $30 billion today, adding that these figures are proof that the current Western strategy there is working. Speaking to reporters after making his presentation, Schuessel noted that U.S. President George W. Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair especially were interested in the investment figures.

As to security matters, Schuessel told the summit that the EU "takes its obligations" very seriously. There are currently 19,000 EU troops serving in the western Balkans, compared to 1,800 from the United States, he noted. He stressed that these figures show how well trans-Atlantic cooperation is working in the Balkans (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March, 9 April, 16 July, and 20 August 2004).

Turning to the specific question of Kosova, Schuessel recalled that the UN has the leading role there. He called for progress on implementing the international community's standards and proceeding to work on defining Kosova's final status. He appealed for a multiethnic Kosova that includes freedom of movement for all its citizens and security for their religious buildings. "It is clear that Belgrade must be included [in talks to resolve the status issue], and one must not exclude it," Schuessel added. He stressed that offering Serbia closer ties to the EU will be an important theme of the Austrian EU presidency, which will last from January to June 2006 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 February 2005).

The Vienna daily "Die Presse" noted on 22 February that Austria has much expertise in Balkan affairs and is particularly qualified to implement an EU agenda in which that region figures prominently. The paper recalled that Austria's Erhard Busek has served for several years as head of the EU-led Balkan Stability Pact, which acts as a clearinghouse for a wide variety of aid-development projects. Busek himself, moreover, is a senior Austrian political figure with long years of experience in Balkan affairs. "Die Presse" noted, however, that Busek did not play a role in preparing Schuessel's latest remarks in Brussels (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 October 2003, 21 May, and 11 June 2004, and 21 January 2005).

Also on 22 February, Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" ran a commentary by EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana on the "effective partnership" between Washington and Brussels. Like Schuessel, Solana held up the Balkans as an example of successful trans-Atlantic cooperation, noting in particular the recent transfer of responsibilities for peacekeeping in Bosnia from NATO to the EU. He urged the Western partners to pay particular attention in 2005 to what he called "Serbia-Montenegro-Kosovo," a formulation that is not particularly popular among Kosovar Albanians and pro-independence Montenegrins, who do not want their future linked to that of Serbia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 February 2005, and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 16 December 2004, and 13 and 20 January 2005).

A commentary on Kosova and Serbia by former EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten appeared on 23 February in London's "Financial Times." Patten, too, noted that the EU and United States can claim a good record in cooperating in the Balkans, at least in recent years. He stressed, however, that his worry "is that much of that progress could be wrecked unless we get off the fence on the subject of the future of Kosovo." Patten argued that "last year's deadly [March interethnic] violence...showed that time is running out" for deciding on the province's final status. This is also a central theme in a report recently issued by the International Crisis Group, of which Patten is co-chairman (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 December 2004 and 7 and 28 January 2005).

Patten believes that the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) is a "stop-gap measure...[that] can no longer hold." To replace it, he wants an international conference to be held in 2005 following "a successful UN review" of the Kosovar authorities' progress in meeting international standards. That gathering will complete work on an accord that will include a constitution to be approved by Kosovar voters in a referendum.

"That accord would not be a free ride for Kosovo Albanians," Patten stressed. International judges will sit on Kosova's Supreme and Constitutional courts, and international monitoring will guarantee fair implementation of rights for Serbs and other minorities. To allay Serbian fears of a Greater Albania, Kosova's constitution will rule out unification with Albania, much as the 1955 Austrian State Treaty forbids setting up a joint state with Germany.

The former EU commissioner hopes that "realists in Serbia" will see the advantages of settling the Kosova dispute. Patten added, however, that "Serbia has no veto on the question of Kosovo's final status...[and] will have to start living in the present, not the past" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 and 18 February 2005). (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIAN POLITICS BETWEEN EUROPEAN VISION AND BALKAN HASSLES. On 14 February, a large Macedonian delegation headed by Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski presented the European Commission in Brussels with a 14,000-page document with answers to the EU's questionnaire on Macedonia's readiness to start talks on EU membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2004, 20 January, and 1, 14, 15, and 17 February 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 October 2004). Macedonia has placed great hopes on joining the EU, and doing so is central to its foreign policy.

During the Brussels ceremony, Buckovski said he hopes that the commission will review the replies by the end of this year so that entry talks could begin in 2006. In an interview with RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters, Buckovski argued on 20 February that another hope he expressed in Brussels -- that Macedonia will join the EU in 2010 -- is realistic. Commenting on media reports that some Macedonian experts disagree, Buckovski said that those experts are frustrated because they were not part of the team that answered the EU questionnaire. He added that if the government had listened to those skeptics, it would never have applied for EU membership or presented the answers to the questionnaire.

In a column for "Utrinski vesnik" of 17 February, Deputy Prime Minister Radmila Sekerinska, who is in charge of relations with the EU, tried to explain why the government is so optimistic. "The answers [fill] 14,000 pages and present an X-ray picture of the current situation and the [planned] reforms," Sekerinska wrote. "They were prepared ahead of the commission's deadline in less than four months by an administration that has frequently been criticized as slow, inefficient, and uncoordinated."

While the government did its best to present the ceremony in a positive light, reactions from the commission were less enthusiastic. Both the commission's President Juan Manuel Barroso and Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn reacted cautiously to Buckovski's optimism. "There is a pace of accession that mainly depends on a country's ability to make progress," Reuters quoted Barroso as saying. "It [is] too early to speculate on any concrete date for accession."

Rehn struck a similar note. "We would like to be able to present the [commission's] opinion [on the answers to the questionnaire] in the course of this year, in the autumn," he said, adding that "the pace of the assessment will first and foremost depend on the quality of the replies and on the advancement of reforms in your country." After a meeting with Buckovski, Rehn argued that Macedonia must now concentrate on three areas: promoting judicial reform, fully implementing the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement, and improving the business climate.

While in Brussels, Buckovski also used the opportunity to address some other possible obstacles to Macedonia's bid for EU membership. Under Greek pressure, the United Nations has recognized Macedonia as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) rather than under its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia. Athens believes that the constitutional name implies territorial aspirations towards Greece, which has a northern province named Macedonia.

One day after the European Commission ceremony, Buckovski asked European Parliament speaker Josep Borrell to ensure that the joint European-Macedonian parliamentary committee not be influenced by the long-standing name dispute. Buckovski told Borrell that unnamed individual Greek members of the European Parliament have "dictated" the agenda of interparliamentary relations to the advantage of what he called Greek rather than EU interests. Buckovski accordingly suggested that the name dispute not be discussed during the next session of the joint committee in Skopje in late March.

There are, in fact, some signs that Macedonian-Greek relations have deteriorated in recent weeks. On 7 February, shortly before his term ended, outgoing Greek President Konstantinos Stefanopoulos said again that the use of the name Macedonia implies territorial aspirations, the Voice of Greece reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 18 February 2005).

But to dispel any idea that Greek issues might be getting too much attention, Buckovski dismissed speculation that Greece could block Macedonia's EU membership bid. "On the contrary, under the [1995] Interim Accord with Greece [which regulates the use of the official name for Macedonia, among other things], there is no possibility that differences we have with Greece could hold up Macedonia's integration into various international organizations," Buckovski told RFE/RL's broadcasters.

It remains to be seen whether Stefanopoulos's successor, Karolos Papoulias, agrees with that view. As foreign minister, he signed the Interim Accord in 1995. The question also remains whether the governing coalition of Social Democratic Union (SDSM), Liberal Democrats (LDP), and the ethnic Albanian Union for Integration (BDI) will try to make political capital out of the Brussels ceremony in the run-up to the 13 March local elections (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 and 11 February 2005). (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The newly admitted countries don't take NATO for granted. As a matter of fact, they add a vitality to the discussions that I find refreshing and hopeful. NATO is an important organization and the United States of America strongly supports it." -- U.S. President George W. Bush, in Brussels on 22 February. Quoted by RFE/RL.

"We used to live in one country. I hope that in the future we will again live in one community called the European Union." -- Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski in Sarajevo on 17 February. Quoted by Hina.

"I don't think the trip as a whole was a failure." -- EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana in Brussels on Serbian President Boris Tadic's recent trip to Kosova (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 February 2005). Quoted by Reuters on 16 February.

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