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Balkan Report: February 7, 2003

7 February 2003, Volume 7, Number 4

SLOVENES PONDER THEIR NATO REFERENDUM. In just over six weeks, Slovenes will vote in a nonbinding referendum on European Union and NATO membership. The country's National Assembly approved the 23 March date in a 30 January session (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2003). While Slovenes are unlikely to reject EU membership, opinion is split on the issue of joining NATO.

Politicians agree that the NATO referendum should be held sooner rather than later, both to capitalize on the swell of support resulting from the November invitation to join NATO (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 November 2002) and to avoid any negative reaction to an anticipated U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

Sharp disagreement persists, however, over the nature of the referendum. Its critics, particularly the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDS) and New Slovenia (NSi), charge that a nonbinding referendum is merely another public-opinion poll costing 600 million Slovenian tolars ($2.8 million). Nonetheless, the governing coalition has pledged to respect the outcome.

The government is clearly eager to see a positive result, as many politicians have spent the past decade working for NATO membership. With all mainstream parties backing NATO membership, a "no" vote would signal a lack of confidence in the coalition and opposition parties alike. Minister of Defense Anton Grizold has already stated that he will resign in the event of a negative outcome, "Delo" reported on 8 January.

Recent public statements by two prominent politicians have attracted widespread attention in the press. On 21 January, Grizold told Reuters that if Slovenia does not join NATO, it will have to "design a new national defense strategy that would be based on obligatory army service, in which we would have to consider introducing army service for women as well." He also added that "some 3.5 to 4 percent of GDP" would have to be used for this purpose, "Delo" reported on 22 January.

Slovenia announced last year that it would end the draft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002), and Grizold's comments were widely interpreted as a threat. Grizold later said he was speaking "in some other context, namely, in the context of a certain hypothetical consideration of what might be, if Slovenia were not to join NATO and it were threatened militarily." On 2 February, "Delo" added Prime Minister Tone Rop's denial: "Concerning the conscription of women, I clearly affirm...that this will not take place under any circumstances."

Regarding defense spending, a "Mladina" article of 27 January noted that military expenditures by non-NATO Western European states range from 0.7 percent (Ireland) to 2.2 percent (Sweden) of gross domestic product. Slovenia's 2003 level of 1.6 percent (an increase from 1.24 percent in 2002) ranks it squarely among these countries, although the article notes that Slovenia's smaller-scale economy means that spending per soldier (approximately $27,000) falls short of such countries, ranging from $40,000 in Austria to $100,000 in Switzerland.

The following week, President Janez Drnovsek was quoted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as stating that "the NATO referendum...will be more difficult if it comes to unilateral American action against Iraq without UN authorization," "Delo" reported on 28 January.

The statement, the paper notes, was something of a surprise, because Slovenia's leaders have refrained from making any connection between Iraq and the NATO referendum. Even more surprising, "Delo" reported, was that Drnovsek's comment was substantially changed twice on the Davos website and then deleted altogether. Later, the president's office provided the paper with a recording confirming the first version of the president's remarks.

The results of a public-opinion poll published in "Delo" on 28 January may allay some pre-referendum worries. Support for NATO membership stands at 44 percent, and opposition at 39 percent. Among those planning to vote, however, support rises to 48 percent and opposition falls to 37 percent.

The poll also assessed attitudes toward EU membership, dividing Slovenes into "integrationists" favoring both organizations (40 percent), "doves" favoring the EU only (25 percent), "hawks" favoring NATO only (4 percent), and "isolationists" favoring neither (21 percent).

Based on the information at hand, poll director Nike Tos predicts that the NATO referendum will pass. The government is taking no chances, however and has earmarked an additional 80 million tolars ($375,000) for a pre-referendum information campaign, "Delo" reported on 30 January.

Some characterize Slovenia's indecision as a reflection of being "caught in the middle" between opposing views on Iraq as it tries to join NATO and the EU simultaneously. However, this is not only an oversimplification but is also inaccurate. The two organizations largely overlap in membership, with some NATO members, e.g., France and Germany, strongly opposing Washington and some EU members, e.g., Italy and Spain, backing the U.S. and the U.K. position.

Indecision, however, is not a viable option. "Slovenia," President Drnovsek recently declared, "cannot be neutral -- it must decide." As a 25 January editorial in "Delo" observed, "A country that sits between two chairs may perhaps have some advantages at times, but it can also fall on the floor when things get awkward." (Donald F. Reindl,

THE EU LAUNCHES TALKS WITH ALBANIA... The European Union formally opened negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Albania in Tirana on 31 January (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002 and 17 January 2003). European Commission President Romano Prodi said the new relationship will encourage Albanian authorities to step up their reform efforts with an eye on eventual EU membership.

Prodi said his visit to Tirana marked the "first official step" in joint efforts to integrate Albania into European organizations. He added that regular meetings between Albanian and EU officials will begin on 13 February in Tirana.

The commission president emphasized what Albania must do to in order to become an EU member. Its tasks center on observing democratic processes and the rule of law, as well as enacting an electoral law, property legislation, and the reform of the judiciary system in order to fight corruption and organized crime efficiently. "On our side, we will work hand in hand in order to help with...this transformation," he added.

Prodi said Albania's chances for successful integration are good because it has shown itself to be a fast learner compared to other countries in the Balkan region: "My clear opinion is that [compared to other Southeast European EU candidates], you started from a lower ground but climbed faster. I tell you, I have great confidence in Albania. The vitality you see here, you don't see in many other countries."

Albanian officials acknowledged that the negotiations are only the start of what will be a long and arduous process of reform. Prime Minister Fatos Nano outlined his list of priorities: "I am especially committed to getting rid of the lack of regulation, the corruption, the trafficking, and the opportunities for criminal networks to penetrate [society]. We shall strengthen our institutions and the civil administration.... We shall become Europeans in our behavior and our political and civil action."

How soon the people of Albania will "become Europeans" in their freedom of movement remains to be seen. Prodi said he supports this, but Nano noted that the upcoming talks do not include visa-free travel to the Schengen countries. Nonetheless, Nano added that he is confident the Stabilization and Association Agreement will be signed before his term ends in 2005.

Prodi, who as Italian prime minister visited the port city of Vlora during heavy rioting in 1997, said he is pleased to see the progress already made in Albania since the period of anarchy.

"Additional changes are needed, but we agree on them and we shall work together" he said on 31 January, adding, "Albania will be a surprise for Europe." (Alban Bala)

...AS IT SEEKS TO COAX REFORMS ALONG THROUGHOUT THE REGION. The European Union's Greek presidency has presented a set of ambitious plans for the Western Balkan countries, worked out together with the next EU chair, Italy. The plans hold out the prospect of eventual EU membership for all five countries of the Western Balkan region, but their mixed reception by other EU member states suggests the road to accession will not be easy for any of them.

Every EU presidency tries to make the most of its six months in office, among other things trying to shift as much attention to its own region as possible. Finland and Sweden promoted the EU's northern dimension, while Spain and Portugal were keen on engaging countries on the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Now, Greece, in close cooperation with Italy, is trying to mobilize support for the Western Balkans. Greece and Italy are trying to move the EU from vague promises to a commitment to send the countries a "powerful message" supporting their membership ambitions and "clarifying the path they will have to follow" -- as their joint program puts it -- culminating in an EU-Western Balkans summit in Thessaloniki, Greece, in June.

This, however, appears to be the weak point of the strategy. While no one seriously opposes Croatia's membership bid -- which is expected in late February with a goal of joining in 2007 -- the rest of the region is in dire need of thorough political and economic reforms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 January 2003).

Dennis MacShane, a British deputy foreign minister, spoke for many of his colleagues when he said in Brussels on 29 January that the corruption and organized crime besetting the region are not just a Balkan problem but a direct threat to the EU: "It is the establishment of rule of law...that is essential. That's to [deal with] crime -- 70 percent of all prostitution in London now is organized by Albanians. It's to cover people trafficking. There isn't a community in our midst that doesn't have people coming through the Balkans who arrive as asylum seekers and economic migrants."

MacShane's worries were echoed by many other EU ministers in Brussels, who raised issues like the return of refugees, recognition of existing borders, establishing civilian control over the military, and building democratic institutions.

Also, when Greek and Italian representatives spoke in general terms of the need for the countries of the Western Balkans to align their basic values with those of the EU, others were not shy in pointing out how wide the gulf actually remains. A particularly frustrating example for many is the perceived unwillingness of Yugoslavia and Croatia to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the ICTY.

Again, Britain's MacShane was the most forceful in driving home the point. "[Another condition is] to cover the question of [the] ICTY, because we have to make clear to our friends in the Balkans that one of the roads to Europe lies through The Hague, and the continued and, frankly, provocative refusal of some governments there, namely Serbia and Croatia, to cooperate fully in [delivering] indicted, alleged war criminals to The Hague represents a very serious barrier to full integration into Europe," MacShane said.

As a consequence, many EU ministers implied that they would prefer if the bloc errs on the side of caution at this stage. Thus, acting Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said EU-Western Balkan relations should proceed "one carefully prepared step at a time," with the next step following only if conditions inherent in the former have been met.

A number of EU ministers implicitly or explicitly rejected the Greek-Italian assumption that the Western Balkan region should be treated as a single entity.

German Deputy Foreign Minister Hans Martin Bury said the EU should apply to the Western Balkans the so-called regatta principle that underlies its relations with the 10 candidate countries expected to join the EU next year. "[The terms the EU should offer] are strict conditionality, individual merit, and the fulfillment of commitments assumed in the integration process by individual countries, that is, the regatta principle applies, political rebates [will be made for anyone]," Bury said.

This point was also underlined by all Scandinavian ministers. Sweden, Denmark, and Finland all said they support an approach that would enable each of the five "potential candidates" to proceed at its own pace.

Denmark's representative also warned the EU not to succumb to the lure of abstract programs, saying that it is the actual effort put in by each of the Western Balkan countries that is "absolutely critical." He added that, although the EU should keep an "open door" for them, there should be no "free access, no cheap tickets." (Aho Lobjakas)

THE EU AND THE BALKANS: IS THAT ALL THERE IS? The Greek EU presidency has made it clear that the Western Balkans are of the highest importance and has issued a working paper on the subject (

Some of its key passages are particularly worth noting: "The Balkans are a key priority for the Greek Presidency. Following the Copenhagen decisions on enlargement and considering progress made in the region, but also its fragility, it is important for the EU to keep the Balkans high on its agenda. The Union must increasingly assume a leading role in the area, in support of stability, development and integration.

"The European prospect, eventually leading to EU membership, must be visible and credible to the peoples of the region. For their part, the Western Balkan countries will have to take on and implement the commitments set within the Stabilization and Association Process. Progress in their road to Europe will be the result of their own efforts and performance....

"[The EU must stick] firmly to the Stabilization and Association Process, while adjusting it as necessary to cope with the changing demands and circumstances. As the Western Balkans move from stabilization and reconstruction to association and self-sustainable development, and the Union enlarges with 10 new members, a powerful message must be sent to governments and peoples in the area, reasserting EU support for their European vocation as potential candidates for membership, assisting them in their efforts, and further clarifying the path they will have to follow....

"Having in mind the considerable progress achieved in the last two years, but also its fragility, the Greek Presidency will deploy all efforts to further consolidate peace, to promote stability, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human and minority rights. Inviolability of international borders, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and regional co-operation are principles of the highest importance in the area. Terrorism and violence, be it ethnically, politically or criminally motivated, should be unequivocally condemned. Full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal on [the former] Yugoslavia must be ensured....

"Though the EU is moving ahead to take the lead in Southeast Europe, continued strong U.S. engagement is necessary. Close co-ordination with the U.S. on Balkan issues will remain a high priority under the Greek Presidency and the Balkans will be placed high on the agenda of the EU-U.S. political dialogue. The Balkans will also be on the agenda of the EU dialogue with Russia, as well as with other relevant countries, considering the importance attached to stability in the region...."

But the efforts of the Greek presidency to draw attention to the Western Balkans and to provide guidelines to the countries there in their aspirations for membership has drawn a mixed response within the international policy community (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November and 6 December 2002 and 17 January 2003). Critics on both sides of the Atlantic suggest that the Greek presidency may prove to be more talk than action and that it consequently will lead to disappointed hopes in the region.

Other critics say that it is unrealistic for the EU to encourage many of the countries in the region -- perhaps including Romania and Bulgaria, which look to membership in 2007 -- to think that they can qualify for the club in the foreseeable future. Croatia may have a chance if it depoliticizes its military and judiciary, but one can hardly expect Albania to meet criteria for membership within a decade or so, these critics add.

In the United States and among some Euroskeptics in Europe, one also hears the argument that "there are other things out there" besides the EU for the countries of the Western Balkans to improve their economies and societies. According to this way of thinking, the EU's demands on candidates are too intrusive and bureaucratic to be acceptable to any self-respecting country, especially one that only recently regained its freedom. Brussels, moreover, is an opaque French-German condominium that would force the countries of the region into a new bloc that would hamper their relations with the U.S. and other nonmember states, the critics add.

Finally, some critics argue that Greece's policies toward its own ethnic minorities are nothing to boast about or hold up as an example. Athens recognizes only a Muslim minority but not a Macedonian, Bulgarian, or Albanian one, for example.

Many observers would agree with at least some of these critical arguments. Many people familiar with both the EU and the Western Balkans often suspect, moreover, that the publics and governments in the former Yugoslavia and Albania do not fully understand the benefits and costs of joining the EU.

But all that aside, the fact remains that most political parties throughout postcommunist Eastern Europe are firmly committed to Euro-Atlantic integration, and that means membership in both NATO and the EU. Anything else that might be "out there" has yet to present itself in a credible or comprehensive form.

For now at any rate, the EU and NATO are the only serious options in the eyes of those who have suffered from Europe's half century of partition. How smooth their roads to Brussels will prove to be is another matter. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "This is a half-state for a provisional period." -- Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic, on the new state of Serbia and Montenegro. Quoted by Reuters in Belgrade on 4 February.

"This case [by Bosnia against Yugoslavia before the International Court of Justice] is not so much about the damages claim. It seeks to define the [nature of the] conflict in Bosnia." -- Predrag Simic, foreign-policy adviser to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, quoted by Reuters in The Hague on 3 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2003).