Prof. Fusun Ozerdem*
On 1 May 2004, the European Union (EU) undertook its biggest enlargement with ten new Member States. Two more Member States, Bulgaria and Romania followed this expansion on 1 January 2007. Currently, Turkey, Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are candidate countries and the negotiation process was opened with Turkey and Croatia on 3 October 2005. Albania, Bosnia -Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo (under UN Security Council Resolution 1244) in the Western Balkans region are considered potential candidate countries.
Candidate countries need to fulfil the Copenhagen criteria which are a range of economic and political conditions in order to join the EU which provides financial assistance for improving infrastructure and economic and political systems to candidate countries. The Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) is the EU’s policy for Western Balkans. On November 2000, at the Zagreb Summit, the SAP is launched for Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Croatia and Macedonia, which are candidate countries, remain part of this process. A year after, the Community Assistance for Reconstruction Development and Stabilisation (CARDS) programme is specifically designed for SAP countries. The new instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) replaces the CARDS and covers candidate and potential candidate countries.
The Stabilisation and Association Agreement’s aim, which is signed between the EU and Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia is to support these countries’ economic transition and to strengthen their integration into the EU Single Market. The Agreement covers reforms from political dialogue to freedoms in the movement of goods, services, workers and capital and requires trade liberalization. Also regional cooperation is another emphasized area. However, the experience shows that the countries in the region are facing a number of problems with their EU accession process, some of which are related to their recent history with the disintegration of former Yugoslavia. Therefore, the objective of this article is to identify the main challenges with the EU membership process of these Western Balkans countries and as the review will show unless there is a resolution with the Kosovo issue in the near future, the hopes for security and stability through EU membership will need to wait for a long time. However, before that it is important to do a quick stocktaking of Western Balkan countries EU membership processes.
The formal bilateral relationships between Albania and the EU was initiated with the Trade and Cooperation Agreement which was signed in 1992. With this Agreement, Albania became eligible for funding under the EU’s Phare programme. In 1999, the new Stabilisation and Association Agreement Process (SAP) was proposed to five South- Eastern Europe countries, including Albania. At the Feira European Council in June 2000, the SAP c o u n t r i e s (A l b a n i a , B o s n i a – Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, including Kosovo as defined by resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council) were announced as potential candidates for EU membership. At Thessaloniki European Council in June 2003, the SAP was confirmed as the EU policy for the Western Balkans and finally, on 28 April 2009, Albania, submitted its application for EU membership.
The history of institutional relationships between Bosnia-Herzegovina and the EU started by the establishment of political and economic conditionality for the development of bilateral relations in 1997. In 1998, the EU -Bosnia and Herzegovina Consultative Task Force was established and after the Thessaloniki European Council, the negotiations for Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) were officially opened in Sarajevo on 25 November 2005 and on 16 June 2008, SAA was signed. It will enter into force once its ratification process has been completed.
After the Thessaloniki European Council, the Enhanced Permanent Dialogue between the EU and the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro was launched in July 2003. According to the referendum on independence on 21 May 2006, a majority of Montenegrin opted for the independence of Montenegro. The EU Council declared Montenegro as a sovereign, independent state on 12 June 2006 and adopted a negotiating mandate for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Montenegro. On 15 October 2007, the SAA was signed in Luxembourg and Montenegro submitted its application for EU membership on 15 December 2008.
After the new Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) was proposed by the EU, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 established the United Nations İnterim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in June 1999. On 17 February 2008, the Kosovo Assembly adopted a resolution which declared Kosovo as an independent state. The European Council recalled the EU’s “willingness to assist the economic and political development of Kosovo through a clear European Perspective, in line with the European Perspective of the region” on 19-20 June 2008.
In order to establish all ‘decision makers’ in Kosovo requires a substantial endeavour. Kosovo Force (KFOR) that deployed the biggest military base in Europe – Camp Bond- steel seems to stands at the top of the hierarchy. Then there are the institutions which are under the control of KFOR, while at the third level, there are UNMIK and those EU institutions International Civilian Office (ICO) and European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) which have the same authority as UNMIK. At the bottom of this sovereignty hierarchy, there is Kosovo Government, and Belgrad Government acting as protective force of Kosovo Serbians.
Kosovo considers the full membership to the EU as an absolute priority and hopes to reach to this aim in 2015, and with the aim of accomplishing its commitments for the international community, Kosovo will need to concentrate on the integration of minorities, institutional stability and parliamentary administration. However, it should be noted that the full member states, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia and Romania do not recognize Kosovo as an independent country and therefore, how the EU can start Stabilisation and association process with a state that is not recognized by all of its 27 member states and deal with the Stabilisation and Association Agreement? On the other hand, it should not be forgotten that all of 27 member states are deployed as EULEX in spite of the fact that five states do not recognize Kosovo.
After breaking up of Yugoslavia, ethnic ten- sions which were provoked by nationalist political leaders turned into wars and ethnic cleansing tactics in the Balkans. The conflicts continued successively as Serbians against Croatians (1991 -1995), Serbians against Bosnian and Croatians (1992 -1995) and Serbians against Kosovans (1998 -1999). However, having been tested by the interna- tional community and accessed to some diplomatic and military sources in recent years, Serbia, the “heart” of Old Yugoslavia, now does all it can for a EU membership. After the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) was confirmed as the EU policy for the Western Balkans, including Serbia, the process Agreement negotiations called off due to lack of progress on Serbia’s c o – o p e r a t i o n with the I n t e r n a – tional Crimi- nal Tribunal for the for- mer Yugoslavia (ICTY) on 3 May 2006. After the clear commitment of Serbia to achieve full cooperation with the ICTY, the SAA was signed in on 29 April 2008 and Serbia submitted its application for EU membership on 22 December 2009.
Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence in February 2008, political instability in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Croatian genocide claim against Serbians, the failure with the arrest of General Mladic and borders problems with former Yugoslavian countries affected the Serbia’s EU membership aspirations negatively. Spain’s Presidency has begun on 1 January 2010 and Spain is one of the five countries who have not recognized Kosovo’s independence. Spain feels anxiety that this can encourage its own separatists in Pais Vasco and Catalan regions. Overall, the relations between Serbia and her southern neighbour and old province Kosovo has all the characteristics of a test in the way of Serbia’s EU membership. The EU does not want to face with a similar problem that was brought by the membership of a divided Cyprus in 2004. Consequently it has not given a green light to the Serbian membership unless there is a peaceful resolution between Serbia and Kosovo.
These days, Serbia and Kosovo have carried the conflict to a diplomatic level, as Serbia disaffirmed Kosovo’s declaration of independence by applying to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Both sides hope that the ICJ’s decision will in a way determine the Kosovo’s final status with statehood. This new ‘diplomatic’ period issue between Serbia and Kosovo has already had a number of serious ramifications. Serbia has recently recalled its Ambassador to Montenegro upon request of the latter’s desire of diplomatic relations with Kosovo. Also, President of Serbia, Mr. Tadic boycotted Croatia’s new President Ivo Josipovic’s oath-taking on the grounds of Kosovo’s President Mr. Fatmir Sejdiu’s appearance at the same ceremony. Additionally Serbia refuses negotiations with Kosovo and insists on UNMIK representation to the old Serbian province.
On the other hand, after the bloody conflict of 1990s, there has been a recovery of relations is between Serbia and Croatia in recent times. With the election of the social democrat Ivo Josipović as President in Croatia has created opportunities for the resolutions of genocide claims in a more political and diplomatic way. For example, the Serbian government promised the broadcasting of a declaration, condemning the events in Srebrenica which was resulted over 8.000 slaughtered Bosniacs. Moreover, Croatia which is planning to accomplish its EU accession process soon, declared that it will help other Balkan countries in harmonizing national laws to the EU legislations. Serbia’s relation with Bosnia and Herzegovina is also carrying a special meaning. The tensions between ethnic Serbs and the international community in the country increased in recent years. With the Dayton Agreement signed in 1995 Bosnia and Herzegovina is under the protection of the international community through the Office of High Representative, and the possible disintegration of the country can easily cre- ate a domino effect in the entire region.
After the horrific experiences of armed conflicts in the Western Balkans in the 1990s, the most urgent priority remains to be the maintenance peace and stability. Although the countries of the region have moved closer to the EU over the past two years, their security, stability and well -being are still challenging issues. The focussed attention is the status of Kosovo and this needs to be resolved in order to progress with the membership process of not only Kosovo itself but also Serbia. The EU perspective can be the best equilibrium key for his issue. The populations of these countries experienced all means of vandalism and racialism in the region are understandably highly favourable to an EU integration. The governments like the public opinion, should commit themselves to support for strengthening the rule of law, good governance, judicial and administrative reform and the development of civil society.
“After the horrific experiences of armed conflicts in the Western Balkans in the 1990s, the most urgent priority remains to be the maintenance peace and stability.”
For supporting this intention, the EU should continue initiatives to make more visible and concrete membership prospects.
As good neighbourly relationships are a key element towards EU membership, the bilateral issues have to be resolved with mutually acceptable solutions. By the support of Instrument for Pre -Accession Assistance (IPA), the governments with the civil society can find the way of utilising for the region’s modernisation and development in most areas. To achieve it, every Western Balkan country should set out its priorities and then the EU should assist them in reform and reconciliation. For example, Croatia should address the Ecological and Fisheries Protection Zone in line with the European Council conclusions without any delay, if it would not like to see any problems during the Accession Negotiations. With this endeavour, Croatia can also send a good signal to other Western Balkan countries about fulfilling the necessary conditions. Montenegro should begin to implement her constitution which is in line with European standards. As administrative reform and capacity are a key element for Montenegro, efforts to fight corruption and organised crime should be continued and supported. Bosnia and Herzegovina should meet the capable of functional and effective institutions; also continue the cooperation with ICTY.
With Albania’s balanced position on the Kosovo issue, it should contribute to the regional stability positively. Considering that there are close historical and socio-cultural links between Albania and Kosovo, the former could in fact, play a more active role in the resolution of Kosovo issue. With its own EU membership aspirations, Albania has strong incentives to encourage Kosovo in finding a common ground with Serbia when it comes to a number of controversial issues such as the future of Serb minority and Christian Orthodox cultural heritage in Kosovo. However, it is also important that Albania’s political leaders should endeavour for strengthening the rule of law in their country and make fight against corruption and organised crime a primary objective. This is particularly important after the EU’s undesirable experience with the membership of Romania and Bulgaria in relation to these particular governance challenges.
Overall, the implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement is very important for Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. Especially for Serbia, full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia is essential take important steps on the way of full membership. Kosovo has a clear and concrete EU perspective and therefore the EU should use available instruments. Mr Stefan Füle, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement visited Kosovo after Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina in March 2010, which was an important signal for all Western Balkans and other European countries. Fulfilling all necessary conditions would likely to bring concrete benefits for all regional countries, as it is imperative to remember that the future of the Western Balkans lies in the EU. However, unless there is a sustainable solution with the future of Kosovo, the plans for peace, security and stability through EU membership in the Western Balkans are likely to remain a futile exercise. The way the countries of Western Balkans are very closely linked with each other in terms of their history, demographics and socio-cultural structures, a regional approach to the problem is clearly imperative, however, Kosovo continues to be the key issue in this bigger picture.
Fusun Ozerdem is an Assist. Prof. in Department of International Relations at Trakya