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Yugoslavia: German Conference Begins Long Road To Balkan Stability

Prague, 26 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Senior officials from some 40 countries and institutions take part in a conference in Germany tomorrow (May 27) designed to lay the groundwork for a major stability pact for southeast Europe.

The conference, at Petersberg near Bonn, is an initiative of the current holder of the European Union presidency, Germany, and will be opened by its Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

The aims of the meeting are ambitious, namely to begin a process which will eventually transform the strife-ridden Balkans into a region of peace and prosperity within the European mainstream. The German Foreign Ministry spokesman responsible for Balkan affairs, Volcker Pellet, spoke by telephone from Bonn with RFE/RL:

"What is at issue here is not the short term solution of the Kosovo problem, we seek instead a long-term commitment to achieve lasting stability in the region. This requires economic help, assistance for democratization, and measures to build trust in the matter of security."

Pellet says that despite the long history of conflict and tension in southeast Europe, he does not regard this aim as too high to be achievable. He says there is no intention to try and solve the problems of the Balkans with a single conference. He says it will be the first of many laborious steps with gradually cumulative effect -- just as was the highly successful east-west Helsinki process, which started in the Cold War days:

"It's just as practical as the Helsinki process has been for East Europe, for Europe as a whole. That process helped overcome socialism in wide areas of Europe, and it achieved success gradually over the years. Our firm conviction is that only with market economic orientation, with democratization, with prosperity can the Balkan region achieve long term stability."

The Helsinki process gave birth to the present Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). And a draft proposal prepared by Germany foresees a key role for the OSCE in the Balkan stabilization process.

The draft, which will be presented to the Petersberg meeting, says that the Pan-European nature of the OSCE makes it the only organization which can lead a long-term stabilization strategy. That's because its membership encompasses not only the countries of eastern and western Europe, but also the United States and Russia.

The draft also says NATO, the Council of Europe, the United Nations and the international financial institutions will remain crucial for the stabilization of southeast Europe. The draft says the aim is to bring together the efforts of all those involved, to create a web of mutually enhancing institutions, "so that the total is greater then the sum of its parts".

Invitations to Petersberg have gone out to all relevant countries and institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Several countries of the former Yugoslavia were invited as well as Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey.

No representative from Belgrade has been invited. The German Foreign Ministry says that before the Yugoslavs can participate the Kosovo conflict must end and Belgrade must be willing to cooperate with the international community.

The concept of the stability pact, however, is based on a spirit of inclusion rather than exclusion. With this in mind, the draft proposal says that lasting peace in the region will be impossible while Yugoslavia persists in its role of outsider and while it cannot be accepted as a negotiating partner by its neighbors.

The EU, as Europe's economic powerhouse, is expected to harmonize its assistance efforts to the needs of the broader stability pact. And, as foreseen by the German draft proposal, the EU would make a commitment to admit the countries of the region as members, even if the timescale for that is not yet clear. The draft says that developments among present Eastern candidate members shows that the prospect of EU membership is a key incentive to reform.

Germany is suggesting that a forum called "the southeast Europe regional roundtable" be developed, which would include several working groups. It would deal with specialized issues like border and minority issues, the return of refugees or displaced persons, economic cooperation and free trade, and the promotion of civil societies.

Petersberg is a first step along what is sure to be a long and difficult road. The documents it prepares will go forward to a subsequent meeting at foreign minister level, or higher, which Germany plans to call in June, before the end of its EU presidency. The ministerial meeting will formally approve the stability pact.