For the last nine years, Javier Solana has been the EU's foreign policy chief. The 66-year old Spanish politician has crafted and represented EU common foreign policy on behalf of an ever rising number of EU member states, which often have their own strong views on foreign policy issues. As NATO Secretary General between 1995 and 1999, he steered the Alliance through its deployments in the Balkans and its bombing campaign in Kosovo and Serbia.
One of the EU's most notable achievements in foreign policy is its diplomatic intervention during the Macedonian conflict in 2001, which led to the Ohrid Agreement and helped prevent the outbreak of civil war. Solana likes to share the recognition with EU member states that supported him and Francois Leotard, the EU special representative appointed at the end of June 2001 to facilitate the negotiations:
"The rapidity, the speed at which the European Union was present, immediately after the beginning of the potential conflict, was fundamental. And the second thing: we were there with tremendous tenacity, day and night, talking with everybody, hours and hours, and we really prevented a breakdown of the negotiations, and we started a process that is still alive and in good health."
Solana became involved in the search for a resolution of the conflict early on, engaging in shuttle diplomacy throughout the spring 2001 negotiations. Led by late Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, the talks arrived at a stalemate in July. By that time, however, they had managed to reveal the issues important to the two sides. The Albanians demanded decentralisation, representation at all levels of government and public administration, including the police force, as well as the use of the Albanian language; the Macedonians meanwhile wanted to preserve a unitary, centrally organised state.
At the end of July, a visit by Solana, NATO General-Secretary George Robertson and OSCE Chairman Mircea Geoana gave new impetus to the talks. A decision was made to move from Skopje to a more secluded place – a tourist resort at Lake Ohrid in south-west Macedonia. The negotiations between 28 July and 9 August were intense and rocky, but ended successfully with the initialling of the Ohrid Agreement.
During his one-day visit, Solana managed to convince the Albanians to accept a compromise: the chiefs of local police forces would be chosen by the municipal council from a shortlist provided by the Minister of Interior; the composition of the police force, meanwhile, would reflect the ethnic balance of the country's population – and not the population at the local level.
After this breakthrough, it was relatively easy to negotiate the remaining issues. The Ohrid Agreement was signed on 13 August in Skopje by President Trajkovski, Albanian and Macedonian party leaders, and the US and EU special representatives, James Pardew and Francois Leotard. Javier Solana, George Robertson and Mircea Geoana witnessed the signing.
Solana continued to be involved in the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement, intervening in moments when problems arose. He sees Macedonia as a major success story:
"If you consider 2001 at the brink of catastrophe, and 2008 at the brink of the EU, this is a great success."