06. May 2008

Win-Win for the Balkans: Respecting International Law, Social Constructivism and Sustainable Economic Growth

The speech of Serbian Institute PR Manager Borka Tomic, held at International Balkan Congress, 24-27 April 2008 in Tekirdag, Turkey

I wish to express my particular pleasure for having the opportunity to welcome this meeting organized by TASAM, especially because it was hosted by Tekirdag and not Ankara or Istanbul which is usually the case. Yet, I have to mention that when I observed the map of the International Balkan Congress I was not happy to see Serbia reduced by not only Kosovo, its southern province, but also other parts of south-eastern Serbia bordering Bulgaria. Satisfied with the clarification about artist’s freedom by Ambassador Murat BILHAN, vice chairman of TASAM, I decided not to comment much on the map. Admittedly, it is not easy to find/ create the proper map, with borders in the Balkans (or rather to say ex-Yugoslavia) changing so often. If it was the UN, the supreme body in dealing with country borders, improvising this much, I might have had a different reaction.

My paper today focuses on the factors determining Balkans’ present and some suggestions of remedies and steps forward to be taken in the future. The following factors determine to a large extent the current situation in the Balkans:

Substantial discrepancy between theory and practice in the attitude of the EU institutions towards the Balkan region.

“Dance” between NATO and Russia,

Balkan energy issues,

European “apple of discord” called Kosovo, and

Balkan countries electoral strife.

Regarding the first point in December 2007, the European Council reaffirmed that "the future of the Western Balkans lies within the European Union"1. It declared its willingness to move forward in the pre-accession process and even “to accelerate it where justified by the efforts of a particular partner country”. In February 2008, the Council reiterated its commitment “to fully and effectively support the European perspective for the Western Balkans”2.

Along with the Council, the EU Commission3 assured that “Serbia has a crucial role to play in ensuring stability, good neighborly relations and regional cooperation in the Western Balkans. It calls on Serbia to reaffirm its commitment to a future within the European Union.”. In addition, on 10 April 2008 the Enlargement Commissioner noted that “Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are in a position to make 2008 a decisive year in terms of getting more and more closely integrated with the European Union.”4

These statements suggest, without doubt, a strong theoretical commitment of the EU towards the Western Balkans. Yet, this theoretical commitment should be better coupled with practical reality. And the reality is not far from Balkan ghettoisation and increased nationalism as according to Ivan Krstev from Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia “the possibility of EU membership now seemed “like Santa Claus” to the population – everyone wanted to believe in it, but no one thought it was possible”.

Secondly, the Balkan reality is defined by the “dance” between NATO and Russia. It should be noted that the Balkan countries have already taken their way towards the Atlantic integration. Certain countries are already full members of NATO - Greece and Turkey (both joined in 1952), Bulgaria and Slovenia (both in 2004). At the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, Albania and Croatia were invited to begin accession talks and join NATO by the next summit in 2009. Alliance leaders awarded Bosnia and Montenegro an "intensified dialogue" on their membership aspirations (step before a formal membership plan). During his visit to Skopje, the NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer urged FYROM to close the dispute with Greece by 9 July 2008. NATO expressed its willingness to develop ties with Serbia further, within the alliance's "Partnership for Peace" program, but also proposed to consider awarding Serbia an "intensified dialogue" if it so requested.

This rapprochement to NATO is not favorably seen by Russia and Balkan countries also must be mindful of the balance between their relationships with NATO and Russia, as a blend of relations with both is optimal for their respective economies.

Thirdly, one of the primary concerns of the Balkans today is related to the energy sector. The Balkan countries are neither major energy producers nor consumers. While fossil fuel reserves are not significant, political and economic instability in the Balkans additionally discouraged any substantial foreign investment. The region is however becoming increasingly important as a transit center for Russian and Caspian Sea Region oil exports to Western consumers.

Following a ministerial declaration on the Pan-European Oil Pipeline (PEOP) adopted in Zagreb in April 2007, the Agreement was signed in Bucharest in April 2008 on creating the association of companies from Romania, Serbia and Croatia that will be participating in the construction of PEOP. This pipeline would transport Russian gas from the Romanian Black Sea port Constanta via the above mentioned countries to the Trans Alpine Line oil pipeline near Trieste, Italy.

Alternative Nabucco project aims at diversification of sources of supply and should reduce the EU energy dependency on Russia. The U.S. is interested in it too for both geopolitical and economic reasons. By means of constructing this pipeline, that transports gas from Azerbaijan across Turkey to central Europe, incomes for US corporations could be guaranteed along with military objectives in Southern Europe.

Fourthly, with regards to the most problematic region in Europe – Kosovo, one cannot but notice division among the EU countries. Kosovo is a real “apple of discord” and a quagmire that will haunt the Balkans and Europe as a whole for much of the time to come.

Fifthly, electoral strife illustrated by nationalist vs. pro-EU views also characterizes Balkan’s present. To illustrate this, I take the example of Serbia, where the minister of agriculture stated that “in the course of this year the country has lost between EUR 120 and 160 million due to the failure to sign SAA”5. EU Regional Aid Commissioner Danuta Huebner warned that without signing the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), Serbia might not be able to tap all of 1 billion euros the bloc has earmarked for the country until 2013. Nationalist forces do not see these issues as crucial. They see the EU's action as interference in Serbia's internal affairs and see it as brazen attempt to "buy" the Serbian electorate. Similar situation exists in other Balkan countries.

Having elaborated on the factors determining the current situation in the Balkans, we need to ask ourselves: Which future do we want for this region? It is a region of huge potential and hopes, but with serious problems too.

First and foremost is to live together and live in peace by building Europe as a whole. If we want to achieve that, the Balkan countries should be well-governed democracies. Nationalism needs to be reduced to a minimum, while competitive patriotism needs to be encouraged in order to create harmonious living among ethnic groups. The economic life of the region should also be restored in order to attract wealth and higher standards of living. International law must be valued and withheld, especially with the current case of Kosovo. Occasional differences (EU / Balkans) are secondary compared to the values and common interests that we share, as we strive for long-term objectives. Finally, it is crucial to eliminate conflict and violence, as it has no place in a unified, peaceful, and prosperous Europe.

European Union and the Balkans share a vision of a democratic Europe without borders, a Europe that would lead to vibrant and market-oriented Balkan democracies. However, today we have concerns about worrying trends in EU's democratic development and some aspects of EU selective implementation of international law.

With regards to the challenge posed by Kosovo “hot potato” one answer seems to be appropriate and really European: standing up for International law. This means that the solution which might lead to Kosovo independence should have the agreement from the UN. “Iniuria ius non oritur” (from a wrong, no right can be derived). In addition, we need to focus on creating projects for sustainable society and economy, in cross-border manners and support the European idea of bringing people closer by creating economical and societal interdependencies, as it was the case in the EU on the very beginning.

This can be achieved through SAA signature and further development of regional cooperation through Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) as a major positive step. Other cooperation frameworks, as CEFTA, the Energy Community Treaty and the Agreement on a European Common Aviation Area are welcomed by the European Commission which also proposes the negotiation of a Western Balkans Transport Community Treaty.

The European Union and the Balkans are allies in making Europe more secure and prosperous. We mustn’t let this road with good intentions pave the way to hell! On this road, it is essential for the Balkans “to be in, in order not to be out”. We are here to paint OUR vision of the Balkans as part of the European and EU family. “Allies in theory” should be transformed into “allies in action”.

1 European Council : Presidency Conclusions 14 December 2007

2 GAERC report, 18 February 2008

3 EC Communication, 8 March 2008

4 European Commission press release, 9 April 2008

5 FOCUS News Agency, 20 April 2008


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