The commission has long argued that the status quo in the Balkans is unacceptable because it could lead to one or more "black holes" emerging in the European political landscape. Instead, that body wants status issues settled by the fall of 2006, a clear EU road map for each country by the end of that year, NATO membership for Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia at the 2006 summit of the Atlantic alliance, and better U.S.-EU coordination in the region (http://www.balkan-commission.org). The latest report also calls for replacing the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina with its sweeping powers and in favor of an EU negotiator linked to the enlargement commissioner in Brussels.
Amato stressed that "stability, peace, and economic growth in the Balkans is a must for the security of Europe and has implications for the entire eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea region and indeed the United States. The absence of immediate disasters in the region should not lead to neglect or complacency."
The four-stage plan for Kosova starts with it ending its current status as a UN protectorate under Security Council Resolution 1244 with a formal tie to "Yugoslavia." The second stage is called "independence without sovereignty," during which the international community retains powers regarding human rights and minority protection. This is followed by a third stage known as "guided sovereignty" while Kosova negotiates with the EU, and finally by a fourth stage with Kosova in the EU. The report also notes that "the lack of leadership in Belgrade has contributed to the plight of the Kosovo Serbs, and the Serbian community in Kosovo has, to a large degree, become hostage to the political struggles in the Serbian capital."
The BBC's Serbian Service suggested that the report will go down well not only in many EU capitals -- enlargement fatigue notwithstanding -- but also in Washington. It remains to be seen, however, what the Kosovars will think of it. To many, it is likely to sound like yet another expensive, colonial-style project to sanction halfway-house status for Kosova for years to come. Critics are likely to note that such a complex arrangement was not required of other former Yugoslav states prior to independence, and that foreign attempts at creative statecraft in the region -- namely Bosnia-Herzegovina and the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro -- have fared less well than traditional nation-states with strong guarantees for minority rights -- Slovenia, Croatia, and possibly Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 March 2005).
Furthermore, many Kosovars are likely to suspect that anything less than full independence is a EU maneuver aimed at eventually forcing them back into some sort of state with Serbia and Montenegro, which all Kosovar political parties reject. Such critics tend to argue that Brussels is still smarting from its inability to stop the post-Yugoslav wars of the 1990s without U.S. leadership, and that the EU sometimes appears eager to find opportunities to prove that it can indeed manage things in its own Balkan backyard. In any event, to meet the Kosovar Albanians' and Bosnian Muslims' frequently expressed security concerns, any European plan for those regions will need to include a continuing role for the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March and 20 August 2004, and 7 and 21 January, 25 February, and 25 March 2005).
Brussels nonetheless has a powerful incentive to offer under the four-stage program, since the plan does include eventual EU membership. Joining that bloc has great gravitational pull throughout former Yugoslavia for at least three reasons. First, membership means a place at the table where decisions affecting Europe's future are made. Second, joining the EU holds out the promise of subsidies and other material benefits. And third, it helps overcome the psychological barrier of having been consigned in the 1990s to the bottom of the European pecking order after decades during which Yugoslavia enjoyed worldwide prestige and influence and its citizens were the only Europeans whose passport was valid for visa-free travel to both the East and West.