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EU: Summit To Grapple With Balkan Problems

Prague, 2 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- European Union leaders gather in the German city of Cologne this week (June 3-4) for a summit overshadowed by the conflict in Kosovo.

The summit, part of the EU's regular consultations, is likely to set down important signposts for how the EU plans to encourage stability in southeastern Europe after the Yugoslav conflict ends.

In the run-up to the summit, Greece criticized the EU's performance so far in helping the Balkans. Prime Minister Costas Simitis said last week (on May 27) that the union should have been bolder and more farsighted in dealing with the countries which emerged after the breakup of the old Yugoslavia. He said those countries needed support with their development and democratization problems, and had not received it. Nor had the EU managed to avoid the Kosovo crisis.

Simitis, who has expressed deep concerns over the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, said Cologne is the EU's chance to shoulder its responsibilities for stability in the Balkans.

Brussels-based analyst Michael Emerson agrees. Emerson, a senior research fellow at the Center for European Policy Studies, spoke today with RFE/RL:

"It is possible and indeed desirable that the European Council [summit] will give real directives to the European institutions as to how to work up their ideas and strategies for the post-war order, with particular respect to the integration of the region into the European Union."

Emerson says that so far, EU leaders have not created an overall strategy for dealing with the region. He notes a start has been made in that direction, for instance through the German-initiated meeting of experts on a stability pact for Southeast Europe last week (May 27) at Petersberg near Bonn. The EU Executive Commission has also just issued draft proposals on offering a new type of "stability and association agreements" to Macedonia, Albania, Croatia, Bosnia and, eventually, Yugoslavia.

Emerson says: "There will be a process between now and the end of the year when the European Union will be, step by step, defining its new activities in this new dimension, economic, political and institutional, in that region."

On the more immediate issue of progress toward ending the Kosovo conflict, the summit is scheduled to hear a report by the EU's special envoy on the crisis, Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. He is expected to brief his fellow EU leaders on his latest consultations in Belgrade and elsewhere in the search for a diplomatic solution.

A related task in Cologne will be to try to choose the EU's first High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy. The person who holds this office will act as the single voice of the union on foreign and security policies, and will have a crucial role in shaping a single EU diplomatic strategy.

Favorite for the post is present NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana of Spain, who will not seek a new term with NATO next year. Solana has won much credit for the adroit way he has helped preserve unity among the NATO allies during the Yugoslav campaign. Similar skills are needed to forge common policies among the EU members. Another, but less likely candidate for High Representative is outgoing EU external relations commissioner, Hans van den Broek. Whoever gets the job, his or her first task will be to coordinate the EU's contribution to the stability program for the Balkans.

In yet another related theme given impetus by Kosovo, the summit is expected to discuss what could be called Europe's new security identity. The EU wants to create a capacity, separate from NATO, for limited military action in Europe in cases where the United States would not become involved. One way of doing this would be to integrate into EU structures the Western European Union (WEU), a long-established body which has mainly acted as a discussion forum. The WEU could be given teeth through assigning it forces from EU members.

The security debate is complicated by the fact that four of the EU member states are neutral (namely Ireland, Austria, Sweden, and Finland), and do not want their neutrality compromised by inclusion into a military bloc.

The two-day Cologne summit will also have a full agenda of other internal EU business. There will be discussion of the incoming EU Executive Commission under new President Romano Prodi. Progress is expected in choosing members for the new commission, which will have the task in the coming years, among other things, of carrying out the union's plans to rebuild southeastern Europe.

The summit is also expected to approve an EU-wide job-creation strategy, which is meant to complement national job schemes. Germany reportedly plans to raise the issue of the steady weakening of the common currency, the euro, against the dollar. There will also be discussion of a controversial French plan for fixed economic growth rate targets. France also wants progress in tax harmonization, or a cut in some value-added taxes to stimulate small business.

The Cologne summit marks the end of Germany's six-month term as EU president. Finland takes over that post at the end of this month.