The EU should become stronger and more outspoken well before the Albanian elections taking place on 23 June 2013. This requires it to keep its distance from all parties, while strongly defending core principles, including the rules that govern the core bodies involved in election administration.
The EU goal is to contribute to the respect of rules that will allow free and fair elections. Following legitimate elections a legitimate winner would form the next government, and a gracious loser would concede and form a credible opposition. This would open the door for cooperation between all serious Albanian parties to take their country and the whole Balkans further on the road to European integration.
A dream? Or a realistic goal that deserves timely European support?
Presentation on Albania in spring 2013 in Edirne
Interview with Gerald Knaus published in Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso
Albania: crucial elections for Europe
The EU should be unambiguous about the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Albania, taking a joint position spelling out concretely what are the red lines that must not be crossed. An inteview with ESI chairman Gerald Knaus
What can the EU do to prevent polarization in Albania surrounding the upcoming elections?
Two things are important. The first is not to have any illusions. Most previous Albanian polls have been marked by controversy, with irregularities and election results challenged. This was also the case in 2009. After the elections politics was paralyzed, the parliament was boycotted, some in the opposition went on a hunger strike.
One can hope for a positive surprise and an uncontested election in June 2013, of course, but sound EU policy should be based on the opposite assumption: that these election will be close and contested and that all parties will try to put pressure on the election administration. In the end, whoever is declared to have lost will challenge the legitimacy of the whole process and protest. And the big loser in such a scenario will be Albania as a whole.
Therefore, since this is a possible, even, likely outcome it becomes all the more important that the EU has a united, clear and principled position already before the elections. The European Union has stated that it expects these elections to meet “European and international standards.” It now needs to spell out more concretely what this means, what the red lines are that must not be crossed. This does not reduce its flexibility. On the contrary: it is a precondition for it to have any real influence. If red lines are crossed and important rules are broken, as we saw recently in the unlawful dismissal of a member of the Central Election Committee, the EU must speak out more forcefully than it has done so far.
Above all the EU needs to try to stay united. The European Commission, all the big political groups in the European Parliament, from the Center right to the Liberals to the Center left, all key member states, like Italy and Germany, should tell the parties in Tirana the same thing: here are our common red lines. Do not be tempted to cross them. And then, whoever wins, the loser also has to accept the result as legitimate.
What does this mean concretely? Recently the Albanian parliament has dismissed one of the seven members of the Central Election Committee (CEC)? Should the EU declare in advance that this was unlawful, and that therefore the coming elections will not meet its standards? Does this not reduce EU leverage?
Elections in Albania will not be perfect. They cannot be, and there are even problems in established democracies. But some problems are much more serious than others. This is why we argue for a need to focus on what is essential, not on what is merely desirable.
For this reason we have proposed a few specific red lines, concerning the core issues always disputed in Albania: the election administration supervising voting and counting, and the process of adjudication of complaints and appeals. Complaints in particular must be resolved through strict observation of Election Code procedures. If there are problems this can be resolved through a credible adjudication mechanism. But in this process the role of the Central Election Commission is vital.
Albania has a good Election Code today. In this Code some rules are crystal clear: members of the election administration cannot be removed for reasons unspecified in the Election Code. Central Election Commission members are political appointees and voted in by parliament, but then they become something else, like US Supreme Court judges chosen by the president and the Senate: they become guardians of rules. There is a reason why they are appointed for six years and are not to be dismissed unless they commit a crime. They must act on the basis of the Election Code and defend it, not engage in party politics. Will they want “their” party to win? Perhaps, but this should be irrelevant to how they do their job.
Now, to accept from the very outset that, in any case, the CEC will and can never be apolitical in Albania, is to give up on basic standards even before a single vote has been cast! This sends a terrible message.
Some might say: it is unrealistic to expect the recent dismissal of a CEC member to be reversed. And perhaps everything will go well in any case from now on: voting, counting, there will be few disputes, these will be resolved peacefully, there will be a clear result. Would anybody then remember this current debate?
But everything will not go well. Not if the past is any guide at all to the present. And the CEC is not a marginal actor in elections. It must be seen as legitimate and based on the law. If things go wrong I fear that later people will look back and point to the dismissal of the CEC member, the collapse of the CEC, and the weak international reaction as a crucial bad turning point.
On the other hand, imagine that the EU takes a strong joint position NOW. This would send a clear signal: some institutions must not be touched. Some rules must not be broken. What really matters is not who wins but that Albanian voters have the chance to participate in a free and fair contest.
How can the international community avoid being seen to take sides?
This is a crucial challenge. It is one the European Union in particular failed in the past. Everybody knows that different political parties in the EU have political friends in Albania. This is normal and legitimate. And therefore different Europeans parties will usually back the arguments of different players in Albania.
This starts becoming a serious problem, however, once it leads politicians in Albania to expect thatwhatever they do and argue, they will receive some backing from their friends outside. The primary role of the European Union should be to insist that all parties play to win in a fair manner. And to lose in a fair manner: there can be no mass protests after fair elections.
This should not be so hard. Take Croatia in the past decade. The European People’s Party has supported and been close to the HDZ in Croatia. Social Democrats in the EU have rooted for their political family members in Zagreb. But everybody has above all hoped that Croatian elections are free and fair, that there is an alternation in power when voters decide on it, and that Croatia will join the EU soon as a consolidated democracy. And Croatia has had an internal consensus that some issues are beyond party politics.
What would be the regional consequences if Albania has bad elections and remains stuck on its EU path?
In 2009 Albania submitted its application for EU accession. In 2010 the European Commission rejected taking this further, and denied Albania official candidate status. Until today Albania has not been recognized as an official EU candidate, unlike Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia. Kosovo of course cannot even apply to the EU as long as all EU members have not recognized it as a state. And Macedonia is stuck until the name issue is resolved. This could be in one month, but it could also be in one decade, or never. Thus we risk seeing the Balkans divide again. One group makes progress (Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia) while the others stay behind, at a time of already severe social and economic stress. This is not a good development for anyone, not for the region’s Albanians nor for their neighbours.
What is the role of international election monitors in such a polarised environment?
Did elections in 2009 meet “international and European standards”? It is surprisingly hard to answer this question. Will it be easier in 2013? This is the key question for observers, and this is what decides whether monitors succeed or fail in their job in Albania in June.
International election monitors are aware that their assessments have consequences. If they disapprove of elections they can trigger massive protests (Ukraine 2004). If they approve of elections they reduce the political ammunition for any challenge (Ukraine 2010). There is an understandable incentive to take refuge in ambiguous language. But this can also be dangerous, as we saw in Albania in 2009.
Of course assessing elections is difficult. Albanian institutions are weak, and elections close. Even small irregularities might have a major impact. In 2009 the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the most professional institution in the field of election monitoring in the world today, summed its findings up as follows: “…while meeting most OSCE commitments, these elections did not fully realize Albania’s potential to adhere to the highest standards for democratic elections.”
What does this mean? Did any country in the Balkans, or indeed elsewhere in Europe, ever fully adhere to these “highest standards”? Is meeting “most” OSCE standards really good enough for Albanian voters? I think there is a challenge for monitors also to be clearer and less ambiguous. Let us hope we will not hear later this summer that Albanian elections have met most OSCE commitments, but did not fully realize Albania’s potential to adhere to the highest standards for democratic elections. It would certainly be true. It would also be irrelevant.
What can member states like Italy do?
We argue that the EU should pay close attention to these crucial elections. Here member states matter hugely. Clearly Italy is close to Albania, has interests and expertise. But above all Italy is led by a coalition government today. This government can talk to all sides in Tirana.
Imagine if the big Italian parties adapt a joint position now, and push the EU to do this as well: to insist that the Central Election Committee is reconstituted before the official election campaign starts on 23 May 2013 in line with the Election Code, and to warn that unless this happens the EU will not consider these elections conducted in line with European standards. On the other hand, Italy could also warn all parties in Albania that this time there must be no post-election boycotts. Disputes have to resolved within the responsible institutions, not on the street. And that Italy would strongly push for accession talks to start with Albania as soon as possible after free and fair elections.
This would send a strong positive message. What happens in Albania today matters to all of Europe. Italians know this better than most Europeans.
One decade has been lost. What about the next one?
Op-ed by Gerald Knaus (for Koha Ditore)
In Athens, spring 2003
One decade ago, in spring 2003, the New York Times published an appeal by four Balkan leaders, the presidents of Croatia and Macedonia and the prime ministers of Albania and Serbia. Its title: “The EU and South-East Europe need each other.” The occasion was a special Balkan meeting of the World Economic Forum in Athens where all these leaders also came together.
I was there too at the time, and I remember both the appeal and the atmosphere in Athens well. In fact, together with my friend Misha Glenny, I drafted it. There was a sense of urgency in the air, and of anticipation. Zoran Djindic, the prime minister of Serbia who had delivered Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague tribunal, had been assassinated by ultra-nationalist members of the Serbian security forces. Croatia had handed in its application to join the EU, the first Western Balkan state to do so. The host of the meeting, Greece, then the EU’s rotating president, pushed hard to get a European commitment to continued Balkan enlargement.
Shortly before the Athens gathering Boris Trajkovski, the president of Macedonia, invited me to draft an appeal that he planned to ask other leaders to co-sign. He knew that the region would receive a better hearing if it spoke with one voice. He was concerned. His own country had recently been on the verge of civil war. Serbia was on the edge, its ultranationalists growing in confidence. The future of Montenegro and Kosovo was not yet settled. Would the EU, following its 2004 enlargement to Central Europe – then just about to happen – get tired of further expansion? The Balkan leaders’ appeal warned: “Until the whole Southeastern Europe is safely integrated into the European Union, the job will not be complete. And until it is, Europe cannot feel secure about itself.”
One decade later, where do we stand? Today, when EU leaders talk about crises in South-East Europe they think of Athens not Skopje, of Nikosia, not Belgrade. Europe does not feel “secure about itself” but it is not the Western Balkans or the threat of renewed conflict that keeps EU leaders awake, literally, at one crisis summit after another.
Montenegro and Kosovo are independent states; the fear of armed conflict in the region has never appeared more distant. And yet, despite these important breakthroughs, it is hard not to regard the years since 2003 as a lost decade for the Balkans. Boris Trajkovski tragically died in an airplane crash in the Bosnian mountains, on his way to submit Macedonia’s own application for EU membership. His country has been stalled for years now by a Greek veto (a threat which did not appear real in 2003 in Athens). Serbia, ten years after the death of Djindic, has still not even opened EU accession talks. Albania is not an EU candidate yet. The Greek foreign minister in spring 2003, George Papandreou, became prime minister, only to be swept away by the Greek economic melt-down. 2003 was perhaps the last success of Greek diplomacy. At the European Union summit on the Balkans in Thessaloniki in summer EU leaders stated their “unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. The future of the Balkans is within the European Union.” Croatia used the past decade, opened accession talks, closed them, and is today on the verge of accession. And yet, it is likely that ten years from now in 2023 Croatia will still be the only Balkan country inside the EU.
Rereading the Trajkovski appeal today highlights a further disappointment. It contained a specific proposal: to make EU regional and cohesion funding available to the region, so as to help it catch up economically, rather than fall further behind. The appeal warned that “the long-term stability of Southeastern Europe depends on the region’s economic health, but this does not mean the usual plea for more money … We are committed to opening our markets to our neighbors and to the EU. We have made huge progress in curbing inflation. And we are now greatly encouraged by the proposal by Greece … that the Thessaloniki summit meeting focus on the possibility of applying cohesion and development policies in our region.”
This was a hope that has not come true. The Western Balkans remains one of the poorest regions of Europe. In Serbia today less than half of the working-age population is actually employed. Unemployment levels in Macedonia and Bosnia are disastrously high. Foreign direct investment in the region, which had transformed the economic structures of Central European countries, has fallen to very low levels. And yet, if a focus on underdevelopment in the Balkans has never been more urgent, the EU’s confidence in its ability to bring about convergence and growth in its own periphery has rarely been lower. The 2003 Trajkovski appeal stated that “The EU has a remarkable record of triggering economic success by helping poorer regions — Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal have experienced veritable revolutions in social and economic development in the last 20 years.” It is hard to imagine anybody writing like this today, in the wake of bail-outs, bank failures and rapidly rising unemployment in Spain or Greece.
EU leaders no longer worry about war in the Balkans. They are no longer confident in their ability to bring about economic convergence. They fear the weakness of democratic institutions in Romania or Greece. They worry about inadequate regulation in Cyprus or Spain. Given this state of affairs: what arguments can sway them to open their institutions to accept even poorer states, with even weaker institutions, and even worse images among the public and political elites in Berlin, Paris or The Hague?
Perhaps Greece will prepare for its EU presidency in 2014 by changing its policies on Skopje and Pristina. Perhaps Serbia and Kosovo will soon reach an agreement that allows both countries to move beyond their confrontation. Perhaps Albania will manage to hold free and fair elections this summer. Perhaps Bosnia’s leaders will soon be able to put together a credible application for EU accession. Perhaps Macedonia’s leaders will be capable of renewing the national consensus to focus on EU integration that existed in 2003. Perhaps politicians throughout the region will wake up late at night worrying about youth unemployment and the inadequacy of vocational training, about export opportunities and the best way to use scarce public resources for growth, rather than about building statutes or wasting public money on prestige infrastructure of little proven economic benefit. And then, perhaps, a successor of Boris Trajkovski will invite all his regional counterparts to an informal meeting to seriously discuss what they might do together to correct the image of their region, driven by the recognition that the whole region has dropped out of the focus of the rest of Europe.
If Boris Trajkovski would be around today, and would propose drafting a new appeal for Balkan leaders to sign and publish, what could it say? Appeals are expected to end with proposals, a sense of hope, recommendations. But sometimes it is better to resist this temptation. To acknowledge just how steep the wall is that one has to climb. To recognise that before any new appeals to the EU a whole series of steps have to be taken by the region itself. To recognise that time matters; and that April 2013 is another crucial moment which Balkan leaders miss at their peril. I believe Trajkovski would have realised this. Will his successors?
Perhaps this is not a time for appeals at all, but for a blunt and honest recognition: a decade has been lost. The next might be as well. And it is not by formulating words on paper that this can be prevented.
2013 could be a big year for visa free travel in Europe, with important decisions upcoming concerning Turkey and Moldova. It could also be a disastrous year for the cause of free travel if visas are reimposed on the Western Balkans.
It is appropriate, therefore, that the first report ESI publishes in 2013 – on 1 January to be precise – deals with this very question. You will find the full report on our website later this week, but if you want an advance copy right away let me know (write to firstname.lastname@example.org). Below you find for now the executive summary and some of the most interesting findings as exerpts from this report. We also recently presented these findings to senior officials in Rome, Berlin, Brussels and Stockholm.
In the meantime the whole ESI team and your Rumeli Observer wish you a happy and productive 2013!
NEW ESI REPORT – 1 January 2013
Saving visa-free travel – Visa, asylum and the EU roadmap policy
Since the visa requirement was lifted for Western Balkan countries in 2009, there has been a sharp increase in claims for political asylum by citizens of the region. Barely any of these applicants qualify for asylum. Rather, they are benefitting from national
asylum rules that provide relatively generous benefits during the application process.
Since 2010, EU leaders have demanded that Balkan governments take measures to stem this tide of asylum seekers. In fact, the problem lies with ‘pull factors’ inside the EU. Now, EU policymakers find themselves under increasing pressure to address the problem directly by suspending visa-free travel for Western Balkan countries. Such a draconian measure would undermine the credibility of the EU’s whole approach to visa liberalisation – not just in the Western Balkans, but also in Moldova, Kosovo, Turkey and the Ukraine. But it is by no means the only solution available.
In the world of justice and home affairs, clear-cut solutions to complex issues are generally hard to come by. There are inevitable trade-offs to be made between controlling borders and allowing the free movement of people; between protecting individual liberties and safeguarding the public. When it comes to visa liberalisation in the Balkans, however, there is a clear solution that reconciles the concerns of all the different constituencies involved. The solution is to make it less attractive for those who clearly do not qualify for asylum to submit speculative or bogus claims.
Under EU rules, all member states provide asylum seekers with financial and material support while their applications are being processes. But there is a sharp difference between two groups of countries: those that take many months to process their asylum
claims, and those that dispose of them within a few weeks. It is the lengthy processing times found in Germany, Sweden and other EU members (up to 8 months with appeals) that acts as the magnet for unjustified asylum seekers. The EU members able to deal expeditiously with asylum claims face a significantly lower numbers of applications.
This paper proposes two possible solutions. One is to address the problem at the national level. Those states that have seen a sharp increase in applications from the Balkans could radically shorten their procedures. They could follow the example of Switzerland, which has recently introduced a 48-hour procedure for applicants from safe European countries like the Balkans. The other option is to tackle the problem at the EU level. The EU should label countries that have completed a visa liberalisation process as “safe countries of origin”, allowing for lighter and quicker processing procedures. We believe that the ideal response would be to pursue both solutions in parallel.
Such a solution would not close off the rights of genuine refugees to apply for and receive asylum. The statistics reveal that countries with shorter procedures in fact accept a higher proportion of their asylum applications. It would, however, help to weed out speculative claims and bring down the costs for European taxpayers. It would also safeguard visa-free travel for the Western Balkans, which has proved a critical step in giving hope and a sense of direction to a troubled region on the EU’s borders.
Macedonia and accession: how the arguments of supporters of early accession talks prevailed
As EU member states gathered last week to discuss Council Conclusions relating to Macedonia two camps of member states emerged with two versions of these conclusions. To understand whose arguments prevailed – and how to judge what happened – it is important to go beyond facile conclusions and take a closer look at both proposals.
On the one hand there was a majority of member states who favored very positive language. These states were hoping to encourage a proactive Commission to take the initiative and to prepare the ground to launch EU accession talks with Macedonia already in June 2013. They were hoping that in the end both Greece and Bulgaria would agree that this was also in their interest … that this was truly an issue where all sides could win.
In this group’s draft of the Council Conclusions a concrete date – June 2013 – is given for the possible opening of accession negotiations. This version states that the Council examines further progress in Macedonia on the basis of a Commission report before June 2013. It asks the Commission to submit “in due time” (i.e. at its own discretion, meaning it could start work on it right away in early 2013) a proposal for a negotiations framework, to be ready by June. It also invites the Commission to begin the “analytical examination of the acquis” (screening) right away.
Here are the key paragraphs of this maximalist proposal, backed by most member states and the Commission last week:
3. The Council largely shares the Commission’s assessment that the political criteria continue to be sufficiently met and takes note of its recommendation that accession negotiations be opened with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
5. With a view to the possible opening of accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in June 2013, the Council will examine progress in the implementation of reforms in the context of the High Level Accession Dialogue, on the basis of a report to be presented by the Commission in the first half of 2013. The Commission is invited to submit in due time a proposal for a framework for negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in line with the European Council’s December 2006 conclusions and established practice, which also takes into account good neighbourly relations. Taking into account the new approach to accession negotiations as regards the chapters on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security, the Commission is also invited to carry out the process of analytical examination of the EU acquis on these chapters.
Faced with this France, backed by a much smaller number of other EU states, put a counter-proposal on the table late last week. This version assesses progress in Macedonia less positively (the Council no longer “largely” but only “broadly” shares the Commission’s positive assessment). The minimalist proposal removes any reference to any concrete date. At an unspecified future moment, the European council would once again have to decide and invite the commission to submit a proposal for a negotiations framework. This would happen only “once all the conditions are met”, which is not explained. The minimalist version states that in order to start screening another Council decision would be needed to task the Commission to do so. For now the commission gets no mandate to do anything until further notice.
Here is the full text of the minimalist version:
3. The Council broadly shares the Commission’s assessment that the political criteria continue to be sufficiently met and takes note of its recommendation that accession negotiations be opened with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
5. Before opening accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a decision which will be considered in due time by the European Council, in line with established practice, the Council will continue to examine progress in the implementation of reforms including in the context of the High Level Accession Dialogue. Once all conditions are met, theEuropean Council will invite the Commission to submit a proposal for a framework for negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in line with the European Council’s December 2006 conclusions and established practice, which also takes into account good neighbourly relations. Taking into account the new approach to accession negotiations as regards the chapters on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security, the European Councilwill also invite the Commission to carry out the process of analytical examination of the EU acquis on these chapters.
So what actually happened? In all EU negotiations there is usually a give and take. However, if one takes a look at the final text of the Council Conclusions one sees clearly that the maximalist proposal emerged largely victorious.
In the final text the following was agreed:
- the council “largely” (not “broadely”) shares the Commission’s positive view that Macedonia was ready to open talks (the maximalist version).
- The council tasks the Commission already now to produce a report “in spring 2013” “with a view to a possible decision of the European Council to open accession negotiations”.
- The council commits that it will assess this report “during the next presidency”, i.e. before July 2013.
- Provided that the assessment is positive, the Commission will be invited to submit “without delay” (i.e. as quickly as it can) a framework for negotiations.
- Provided that the assessment is positive the Commission will be invited to start screening two chapters, i.e. before accession talks begin.
- The Council even “takes note” that the Commission “will conduct all the necessary preparatory work in this respect” … which means that Commission can start preparing both the negotiations framework and screening right away.
Look at the finally agreed text of the conclusions and the answer whose arguments won the day is obvious:
40. The Council largely shares the Commission’s assessment that the political criteria continue to be sufficiently met and takes note of its recommendation that accession negotiations be opened with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
42. With a view to a possible decision of the European Council to open accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Council will examine, on the basis of a report to be presented by the Commission in Spring 2013, implementation of reforms in the context of the HLAD, as well as steps taken to promote good neighbourly relations and to reach a negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue under the auspices of the UN. In this perspective, the Council will assess the report during the next Presidency. Provided that the assessment is positive, the Commission will be invited by the European Council to: (1) submit without delay a proposal for a framework for negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in line with the European Council’s December 2006 conclusions and established practice; (2) carry out the process of analytical examination of the EU acquis beginning with the chapters on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security. The Council takes note of the intention of the Commission to conduct all the necessary preparatory work in this respect.
The original plan of the Commission and of the member states who supported the maximalist version was to create a new momentum emerging from this Council. In this they succeeded.
- The Commission can immediately begin to prepare its “spring report” which the Council will assess before July 2013.
- The Commission can immediately begin to prepare for the analytical screening of two chapters and draft a proposal for negotiations.
- Once the Council accepts a positive Commission report the Commission will submit the framework for negotiations “without delay”
One basic reality has obviously not changed: Greece will have to agree to the opening of accession talks. Expecting anything else was always unrealistic. The hopes of the friends of opening accession talks were to kick-start a process of finding a solution to the name issue in the first few months of 2013. Both supporters of opening talks soon and minimalists agreed on this paragraph without arguing:
41. As set out in the European Council conclusions of June 2008, maintaining good neighbourly relations, including a negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue, under the auspices of the UN, remains essential. There is a need to bring the longstanding discussions on the name issue to a definitive conclusion without delay. The Council welcomes the momentum that has been generated by recent contacts/exchanges between the two parties, following the Greek proposal for a memorandum of understanding. The Council is, moreover, encouraged by recent contacts with the UN mediator.
The important point is this: if there is a positive European commission report following enough movement on the name issue and on good neighbourly relations all preparations will have been made to launch accession talks in 2013 without delay.
Clearly the pressure has increased further for a serious effort to find a breakthrough in early 2013. This is pressure on everyone: on the Commission, on interested EU member states, but above all on Skopje and Athens. The fact that Greece accepted these conclusions, however, is another small positive sign.
The European Commission’s hope from the very beginning was to energize the search for a mutually agreed solution to the name issue. The commission and most member states wanted a date in the conclusions when accession talks would possibly be opened. Now there are two dates in the conclusions: a report by the commission on progress by “spring” (April) with a view to start accession talks; and a Council assessment of this “before the next presidency” (before July).
An additional paragraph was also inserted upon the initiative of Bulgaria:
In light of the overall importance of maintaining good neighbourly relations, the Council also notes the recent high level contacts between the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria and looks forward to their translation into concrete actions and results.
This means: if there is an agreed solution on the name issue soon, and if there are ‘concrete actions and results’ from high level meetings with Bulgaria till April, the goal to start accession talks in 2013 “before the next presidency” or very early in it remains alive. These are one big and one (slightly) smaller if. But a focused effort by the Commission and by member states supportive of opening accession talks soon has prepared a more promising playing field for a breakthrough than there has been in a while. What is needed now is a serious and imaginative solution to the name dispute before the commission reports “in the spring”; a solution that allows both Athens and Skopje to unlock the current destructive stalemate in a manner that both governments can defend before their domestic constituencies.
The Council was a warm up exercise. Now the real game begins. Athens and Skopje face a prisoners dilemma: if neither side believes that a solution is possible, and acts on this, both will lose. If both sides take a calculated risk to take the search for a mutually acceptable solution seriously both can win.
By spring 2013 we will know the outcome … sooner rather than later.
A few months ago I visited Macedonia to present EU diplomats, ambassadors, the Macedonian prime minister, the foreign minister and party leaders a slighly revised version of the ESI proposal for overcoming the stalemate in the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece.
I also presented this proposal once again in Brussels, Berlin and in other EU capitals. I gave everyone a paper copy of the revised proposal. Since then it has circulated among EU diplomats.
It would be foolish to be too optimistic that anything can help overcome such a complicated dispute. And yet, there are a number of reasons to be more optimistic this time than in a long while. I remain convinced also that nothing can be forced by outsiders on either party, not now, not later. It will take a compromise that national leaders can present to their publics in both Skopje and Athens as a step forward for their side; and one where both sides retain their leverage until actual EU accession of Macedonia.
Then, earlier this month, the Macedonian weekly Gradjanski reported the following:
“drawing on unnamed diplomats, reported that Brussels was working on a‘date for date’ strategy about the country in December: start of membership negotiations would be announced for next June with Skopje being obliged to deliver by then tangible results on good neighbourly relations (improved ties with Bulgaria and Greece, including essential reviving of the name negotiations). The sources stressed the importance in this context of a constructive response of Skopje to Greece’s memorandum, which would offer ideas, but also pointed at the government being reserved about the plan. The weekly also reported on an upgraded 2010 proposal by the European Stability Initiative that the name issue be resolved in the early stage of membership negotiations but the referendum on the solution take place at the end of the process, i.e. together with the referendum on EU membership. According to Gragjanski, the upgraded document, which is reportedly supported by an influential lobby group in Brussels, foresees for the new composite name to immediately replace the current reference and its wider use to enter into force together with EU accession. Constitutional changes are expected from Skopje in order to accept the new name for international use; the constitutional name will remain official name of the country in its official languages and the use of the adjective ‘Macedonian’ will not be called in question, says the proposal.”
I have since been asked by a number of people to share the new version of the proposal. This then is the latest version in full:
What is needed is a way forward that accepts the bottom lines for Athens and Skopje. This can be achieved through a constitutional amendment in Skopje that changes the name of the country with a geographic qualifier today: to replace Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia where the latter is currently in use, allowing Athens to support the start of EU accession talks and to sending an invitation to join NATO later this year or early next year, but which foresees that the change will enter into force permanently and erga omnes on the day Macedonia actually joins the EU.
Such a solution is possible if the following happens:
1. There is active mediation between both sides which focus solely on finding a compromise name for the country with a geographical modifier, dealing with the issues of RM NATO accession and the opening of EU
2. Greece and RM agree on a compromise name, XYZ, with a geographical modifier. This will immediately replace F.Y.R.O.M. wherever that is currently in use in international
3. Greece commits to allow RM to join NATO under this new provisional name XYZ and an invitation to join NATO is extended.
4. RM changes its constitution to say something like this:
“From the day the Republic of Macedonia joins the European Union the international name of the country will be XYZ, used erga omnes in all languages other than the official languages of the country.”
The promised referendum on EU accession at the end of the negotiation process becomes thereby de facto the real referendum on the name issue (there was no referendum for F.Y.R.O.M., and until accession the new name is used only in place of F.Y.R.O.M.).
Leaders in RM replace one name their citizens do not like (referring to a state that has disappeared decades ago, Yugoslavia) with another name they do not like, both used in the same way.
Neither side loses leverage in the future. If future Greek governments block EU accession of RM or make additional demands judged unacceptable in Skopje this would also delay the entering into force of the core provision of this compromise. Greece shows its EU partners that it remains actively in favor of Balkan enlargement. Greece also keeps its leverage until the very end of the accession process
First there was the headline in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 9 October: “Brussels reprimands Croatia: ‘Criteria for accession are not yet met’.” Then Gunther Krichbaum (CDU), Chair of the Europe Committee in the German Bundestag, declared: “At this moment the country is not ready to join.” President of the Bundestag Norbert Lammert explained: “We have… to take the most recent progress report of the European Commission seriously: Croatia apparently is not yet ready to join.” On 15 October, Martin Winter wrote in Süddeutschen Zeitung that Croatia is indeed “not mature enough”, but that it is now too late: “It is a pity: Lammert’s objection comes a bit late.”
These are disturbing warnings. Is the EU about to be weakened through the hasty accession of yet another unprepared member? Doesn’t the EU have problems enough already?
In fact, Croatia’s preparations for accession have been widely recognised as remarkable. Since its application for membership in 2003, Croatia has faced demands that were considerably more challenging than those presented to previous candidates. It not only had to pass EU-compliant legislation, but also demonstrate real progress in implementing what were often challenging reforms. These efforts were recognised by the European Parliament in December, with a vote of 564 to 38 in favour of Croatia’s accession, and by the 16 EU member states that have already ratified the accession treaty. Last week’s European Commission scorecard confirms that Croatia is now completing the process of alignment. It’s ‘top ten’ list of outstanding issues – such as the privatisation of three shipyards, a new law on access to information, a national migration strategy and a new recruitments to the border police – are by no means alarming.
So why the sudden chorus of critical voices?
The only real charge to be brought against Croatia is the problem of corruption. On that issue, however, the European Commission’s most rigorous assessments have been fairly positive. The one demand made by the Commission – that Croatia continue its fight against corruption and organised crime – is one that could be made of many EU members. Transparency International’s most recent corruption index puts Croatia ahead of Italy and indeed the whole of South East Europe, including EU members Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. Over the past three years, Croatia has taken action to root out at corruption at the heart of the state, issuing indictments against a former prime minister and deputy prime minister, various cabinet ministers, the head of the customs administration, numerous managers of state-run companies and even the former ruling party itself. This suggests a country that is seriously committed to tackling the difficult legacy of the
In fact, since 1999 Croatia has been undergoing a process of radical change to its political culture that goes far beyond the adoption of thousands of pages of EU legislation. In 1999, Croatia’s President Tudjman was still supporting the separatist ambitions of Croats in neighbouring Herzegovina, violating minority rights at home, suppressing media freedoms and obstructing the work of the
All this has now changed. Croatia has ceased to disrupt state-building in Bosnia, issuing a formal apology in 2010 for the war crimes committed there in Croatia’s name. It has allowed the return of Croatian Serb refugees, and in 2003 a Serb minority party even entered into a coalition government. It has completed the extradition of all those indicted by the Hague, including the most famous, General Ante Gotovina. In Belgrade, this year’s Gay Pride parade was once again cancelled; in Croatia, government ministers were visible participants in the parade.
Compared to 1999, Croatia is now a much more open and liberal society. It will fit into the European Union with no clash of political culture. But proceeding with Croatian accession is not just about rewarding these efforts. It is also a vital political message for Croatia’s Balkan neighbours. It shows what the path to Europe really consists of: visionary leadership and the courage to take political risks inspired by European values.
None of Croatia’s eastern neighbours are close to joining the EU. Only Montenegro has begun the negotiation process, which requires at least a decade to complete. But it is in the best interests of both the EU and the peoples of South Eastern Europe – in Belgrade, Sarajevo, Tirana and Pristina – that the promise of eventual accession remains a credible one. Because, as Croatia has demonstrated so powerfully, it is the accession process itself that offers the best prospects for lasting political change in the region.
The accession of Croatia in summer 2013 will not weaken the EU. On the contrary, the transformation of Croatia demonstrates the power of the EU to bring about lasting change in a region that is gradually emerging from its troubled history.
Den Anfang machte eine Schlagzeile der Frankfurter Allgemeinen am 9. Oktober: „Brüssel ermahnt Kroatien: ‚Bedingungen für Beitritt noch nicht erfüllt’.“ Dann meldete sich Gunther Krichbaum (CDU), Vorsitzender des Europaausschusses des Bundestages, zu Wort: “Zum jetzigen Zeitpunkt ist das Land nicht beitrittsfähig.” Bundestagspräsident Norbert Lammert erklärte: “Wir müssen … den jüngsten Fortschrittsbericht der EU-Kommission ernst nehmen: Kroatien ist offensichtlich
noch nicht beitrittsreif.“ Und am 15. Oktober schrieb Martin Winter in der Süddeutschen Zeitung, dass Kroatien in der Tat „nicht reif genug ist“, doch dass der Zug schon abgefahren sei. „Nur leider: Lammert kommt mit seinem Einwurf ein wenig spät.“
Es sind beunruhigende Nachrichten, verstörende Warnungen: Wird die EU durch eine überhastete Aufnahme eines unvorbereiteten Landes geschwächt? Hat die EU heute nicht schon genug Probleme?
Kroatien ist ärmer als Deutschland oder Österreich. Allerdings ist sein Durchschnittseinkommen vergleichbar mit dem in Ungarn und höher als in allen anderen Ländern des Westbalkans oder als in Rumänien und Bulgarien.
Kroatien wurde während seiner Beitrittsverhandlungen mehr geprüft als jedes andere Land, das bislang versuchte der EU beizutreten. Es stellte seinen Antrag auf Aufnahme 2003. Vor dem Öffnen und Schließen der 35 Verhandlungskapitel mussten immer konkrete Reformen umgesetzt, nicht (nur) EU-konforme Gesetze verabschiedet werden.
War das Europäische Parlament blauäugig, als es Anfang Dezember mit 564 gegen 38 Stimmen für Kroatiens Aufnahme stimmte? Was ist den 16 EU Mitgliedsstaaten, die Kroatiens Beitrittsvertrag bereits ratifiziert haben, entgangen? Denn man kann davon ausgehen: wäre Kroatien heute noch nicht reif für die EU, dann würde es das wohl auch zum vorgesehenen Beitrittstermin im Sommer 2013 nicht sein. Ernste Probleme lassen sich nicht in ein paar Monaten beheben.
Doch um welche Probleme geht es eigentlich, aufgrund derer dieses kleine Land (mit gut 4 Millionen so viele Einwohner
wie Rheinland-Pfalz) eine mögliche Belastung für die EU darstellen könnte?
Ein oft hervorgehobenes Thema ist Korruption. Hier ist allerdings im Fall Kroatiens der Grundtenor des von Lammert zitierten Kommissionsberichtes positiv. Die einzige konkrete Forderung der Kommission ist eine Selbstverständlichkeit: Kroatien müsse den Kampf gegen Korruption und organisiertes Verbrechen fortsetzen. Im neuesten Korruptionsindex von Transparency International schneidet Kroatien so gut ab wie die Slowakei und besser als Italien und als alle anderen Länder Südosteuropas, einschliesslich der EU Mitglieder Griechenland, Bulgarien und Rumänien. In den letzten drei Jahren gab es eine Serie von Anklagen wegen Korruption, unter anderem gegen einen ehemaligen Premierminister, einen ehemaligen Vizepremier, gegen Minister, den Chef der Zollverwaltung, Manager von Staatsbetrieben und sogar gegen die frühere Regierungspartei. Natürlich gibt es weiter Korruption, in Kroatien so wie in Italien oder Österreich, aber es ist auch gerade in diesem Bereich sehr viel passiert.
Bezüglich der Umsetzung von EU-Gesetzgebung in Kroatien stellt der Kommissionsbericht fest: „Kroatien hat weitere Fortschritte in der Verabschiedung und Implementierung von EU Gesetzgebung gemacht und vollendet nun seine Angleichung mit dem acquis.“ Nicht alles ist gut: „Die Kommission hat Bereiche identifiziert, in denen weitere Bemühungen notwendig sind, und eine begrenzte Zahl von Aspekten, für die verstärkte Bemühungen erforderlich sind.“ Die Kommission nennt überdies noch zehn offene Punkte, auf die sie besonderen Wert legt, darunter die Vollendung der Privatisierung dreier Schiffswerften; die Verabschiedung eines neuen Informationszugangsgesetzes und einer Migrationsstrategie; den Ausbau zweier Grenzposten; oder weitere Anstellungen bei der Grenzpolizei (das wird, bis zu Kroatiens Schengenbeitritt, ein Thema bleiben).
Das sind alles sinnvolle Ziele. Doch entscheiden diese Punkte darüber, ob Kroatien als Mitglied die EU stärken oder schwächen würde?
Denn der tiefgreifendste und wichtigste Wandel in Kroatien seit 1999 ist neben der Umsetzung der EU Gesetze die Veränderung seiner politischen Kultur. Noch 1999 unterstützte Präsident Tudjman separatistische Kroaten in Bosnien. Er weigerte sich mit dem internationalen Strafgerichtshof zusammenzuarbeiten. Er trat Minderheitenrechte, Pressefreiheit und andere demokratische Grundwerte mit Füßen. Als er im Dezember 1999 starb, war sein Land international isoliert.
Danach begann sich Kroatien dramatisch zu verändern, angefangen mit der Politik gegenüber Bosnien. Die Rückkehr vertriebener Serben wurde ermöglicht. Es kam 2003 sogar zu einer Koalition zwischen Tudjman’s ehemaliger Partei, der HDZ, und der Partei der kroatischen Serben. Alle vom Den Haager Tribunal angeklagten mutmaßlichen Kriegsverbrecher
Kroatien ist heute ein anderes, offeneres, liberaleres Land als 1999. In Serbien werden weiterhin von manchen die Massaker in Bosnien in Frage gestellt. 2010 besuchte Kroatiens Präsident Josipovic hingegen Bosnien und bat für im Namen Kroatiens
begangene Verbrechen um Verzeihung. In Belgrad wurde die Gay Parade erneut abgesagt; in Kroatien nahmen Minister an der Parade in Split teil.
Genau darin aber liegt auch die wichtigste Botschaft eines kroatischen Beitritts an seine Nachbarn in Südosteuropa: um eines Tages EU-Mitglied werden zu können, braucht es Verantwortung, Führung und den Mut, politische Risiken einzugehen. Es
braucht Ausdauer und einen starken nationalen Konsens. Es ist in jedem Fall ein Marathonlauf, wenn nicht gar ein Triathlon, und kein Sprint.
Auf absehbare Zeit wird keiner von Kroatiens südlichen Nachbarn der EU beitreten. Verhandungen brauchen auf jeden Fall viele Jahre. Bislang ist es nur Montenegro gelungen, diese zu beginnen. Doch ist es im Interesse, sowohl der EU als auch der Region, dass dieses Ziel glaubwürdig bleibt, in Belgrad, in Sarajevo, in Tirana, in Skopje.
Der Beitritt Kroatiens im Sommer 2013 wird die EU nicht schwächen. Im Gegenteil, schon jetzt haben die Veränderungen im Land, die das Versprechen eines EU Beitritts verursacht hat, den Einfluss der EU in Südosteuropa gestärkt. Es gibt viele Gründe, sich über den Beitritt Kroatiens zu freuen und diesen als kleinen, aber wichtigen europäischen Erfolg zu sehen.
Am Sonntag, 21.10.2012, wird auf ORF 2 um 23.05 der von ESI mitgestaltete Dokumentarfilm „Kroatien: Heldendämmerung“, eine neue Folge der preisgekrönten Serie „Balkanexpress – Return to Europe“, ausgestrahlt.
Kori Udovicki, a former Governor of the National Bank of Serbia and former Minister of Energy, who had worked as an economist for the IMF and had set up and run an economic think tank in Belgrade, has since 2007 been Assistant Secretary-General and Assistant Administrator of UNDP responsible for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). We met a few times in recent months to discuss economic development issues in the Balkans: in New York, in Paris and most recently in Bruges. As we talked we quickly discovered that we shared a very similar approach to these issues, even though we looked at them from different perspectives and experiences.
As Kori told me, after a long career as a macroeconomist, with a PhD in economics from Yale under her belt, she had grown increasingly sceptical about the conventional economic policy advise that had been offered to Balkan countries in recent years. It is not that this advise is not sound, but that it is dangerously limited. Yes, macroeconomic stability is important, crucial even. Yes, privatisation and indeed liquidation of loss making companies was needed (and indeed often took much too long in the Balkans). And yes, it cannot harm if it is easier and quicker to register a new business. But these prescriptions alone will not be enough to create the jobs and reverse a disastrous process of deindustrialisation from which the Balkan region has suffered in the past two decades.
I had long felt the same, and this sense of unease was recently reinforced after a conference debating economic policy in the region in the wake of the global financial crisis organised by the Central Bank of Greece in Athens. There, in the presence of governors of Central Banks from across South East Europe, numerous speakers pointed out the need to rethink the current growth model in the region. They warned that what had happened in recent years, consumer credit driven growth, was not going to work in the future. And yet, there remained a vagueness in the debate about an alternative and yet credible approach to growth.
And so Kori and myself put our heads together, debated, discussed and sent drafts across the atlantic to produce something we called an “appeal” concerning the employment crisis in the Balkans. This text benefitted hugely from debates with and research undertaken by my ESI colleagues, in this case in particular Kristof Bender and Eggert Hardten. It also benefitted from feedback at a seminar at the College d’Europe recently in Bruges, where I had been invited to present ideas to the senior staff of UNDP working in South East Europe. Above all it benefitted from the long debates, continued over skype, with Kori.
We certainly hope that this will be a useful and provocative small contribution to an inportant topic; one that concerns arguably the biggest structural threat to a lasting stabilisation of the Balkans.
The Balkan Employment Crisis—an urgent appeal
(Oped by Kori Udovicki and Gerald Knaus)
Leskovac, once known as the Serbian Manchester, is home to a textile industry that began in the 19th century, flourished under communism, and survives – albeit barely – till today. The town, which lies in the south of Serbia, boasts a textile school (set up in 1947), an association of textile engineers, and its very own textile magazine. The boom years are a distant memory, however. Leskovac’s socialist-era companies are bankrupt, their production halls empty, their machines dismantled and sold as scrap metal.
In the past two decades Leskovac has seen its population decline from 162,000 (1991) to less than 140,000. The drop in the working-age population has been disproportionately
high, and unemployment has increased. At the heart of the town’s plight, and that of so many other regions in the Western Balkans, is the impact of dramatic de-industrialization.
Contemporary Serbia is a society whose population is both aging (with an average age of 41, it is one of the oldest in the world) and shrinking. So is its industry. A recent article in the local press cites that 98 large, complex, industrial companies have shut down over the past two decades. And, most worrisomely, so is total employment. After stagnating throughout the economic recovery of the 2000s, it has been sharply declining since 2008. Today the employment rate is down to about 45 per cent, more than 20 per cent below the EU average. Half of the young are unemployed. In the textile and clothing sector, the number of workers has collapsed from 160,000 in 1990 to around 40,000 in 2010.
Serbia’s textile industry is representative of much of its industry, and Serbia’s labor market trends are representative of those in all the post-Yugoslav states. The employment rate in Albania is also one of the lowest in Europe.
It is true that Europe’s textile industry has been put on the defensive by the emerging Far East. However, it would be wrong to conclude that Serbia’s textile industry’s decline has been inevitable. In recent decades, the sector – one of the most highly globalized in the world – has seen employment shift from Germany to Poland, from Hong Kong to China, from Italy to Hungary and Turkey, and then to Bulgaria and Romania. In many peripheral regions across South East Europe, textiles have been a recent locomotive of growth and exports, creating hundreds of thousands of low-skilled jobs. The question we need to ask is why so few of these jobs have found their way to the Western Balkans. Bulgaria was able to increase its exports in the textile and clothing sector from 280 million USD to more than 2 billion US between 1990 and 2010, contributing more than 100,000 industrial jobs. Why hasn’t this been possible in Serbia, Bosnia or Albania? The same questions could be asked about other industries in the Balkans. Why are there more than 10,000 jobs in the furniture industry in the Central Anatolian city of Kayseri, far from any woods, but not in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Why are household appliance producers doing well in Slovenia, Western Romania and Western Anatolia, but not in the Western Balkans? How about agro-processing for the EU market? And what about Bosnia’s armaments industry, the mainstay of its industry in the past? Was its collapse really inevitable?
One answer is that the growth model adopted in the Western Balkans over the last decade has discouraged governments from asking such specific questions. Driven by distrust of the legacy of socialist planning, as well as by fear of state capture by corrupt businesses and corruption in the administration, the preferred economic policies have been hands-off, focusing not on specific sectors of the economy but on the general business environment. Policymakers have been praised for avoiding the temptation to shield declining areas of the economy from the discipline of the market. At the same time they found it hard to acknowledge when many former socialist businesses were past the point of possible recovery, overburdened by their debts and in urgent need of liquidation. Neither the political debates nor the legal framework in the region acknowledged that liquidation, sometimes, is the best way to ensure that existing resources—people and capital—remain in use, by being re-employed in the new growing private sector.
These key ingredients of the standard recipes of economic policy in the past decade are important, of course: a stable macroeconomic environment and a good business climate, in
which it is easier to open and close businesses, are a necessary condition for sustained recovery. But they are not sufficient. In a region ravaged by conflict and the sheer length of economic decline, a policy mix of “hands-off”, “rules-based” privatization and deregulation cannot be sufficient to launch sustained economic recovery. Even during the periods of relative economic growth and high FDI inflows, the employment generated by the new, entrepreneurial private sector was not sufficient to offset the jobs shed by the slowly restructuring and privatized old industries. The financial crisis of 2008 has wiped out more than the jobs generated in the recovery period, even if informal job generation is taken into
While the recovery lasted, there was a hope that FDI would yet accelerate and begin to generate more employment. Now, however, it is clear that the growth model needs to be changed. This has been noted by international institutions, most explicitly the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). More importantly, regional policymakers, under increasing pressure to generate jobs, have begun reaching for desperate measures, such as large, blanket, subsidies for foreign investors. This is the kind of step that has so often in the past given industrial policy a bad name.
What would an alternative model of economic growth look like? In answering this question, it helps to keep in mind that there is not, in fact, one simple answer. Each time, the answer depends on the context. Clearly, the key is the inclusion into global chains of industrial production. Credible industrial policies are needed to define ways of encouraging the mobile global investments to those sectors – from food processing to clothing, from furniture to basic engineering assembly – where declining industrial regions in the Balkans possess a comparative advantage. For this one needs a better understanding of the drivers behind the industrial jobs that are already being generated. In Leskovac, for example, over the past five years new jobs have been linked to investments by companies from Germany, South Korea and Turkey.
The question then becomes: what could be done to turn the trickle into a flood? Comparative advantages are likely to be still hiding in the remnants of the past. Declining industries have left behind redundant workers and educational institutions without the skills and resources needed to adjust to a new marketplace. Provincial cities like Leskovac lack foreign contacts. However, the right initiatives and support can deliver the necessary resources at a fraction of the costs that it would take to create a conducive environment “from scratch”.
A competent industrial development agency, modelled, for example, on the Irish Industrial Development Agency (IRA) could do this job. The key word here is “competent”. It would have to be able to offer support and advice – based on credible and painstaking sectoral analysis – to local administrations and companies. It would need to help educate local governments about ways of attracting investors. It could also offer grants for private sector management training, to enable their companies to move up the value chain in
different sectors of production.
This is not an easy task. However, there is no reason to assume that such competence in the Western Balkans could not be put together and built up. For this, however, it is necessary, that a new philosophy for the role of industrial policy in economic growth be embraced. This can only be done by the policymakers and governments of the countries themselves.
The EU could also help, however. All too often in the past two decades, the message coming across from EU officials and international financial institutions has, instead, been one of blanket discouragement of government intervention. The EU could do more to support the countries’ ability to develop and pursue credible multiyear strategies in a whole range of sectors, including agriculture and rural development, transportation, environment, and regional development. During the last enlargement wave, each candidate country integrated such strategies into a National Development Plan (NDP), which functioned both as a national roadmap and as a programming document for EU assistance. Such an approach would benefit the countries of the Western Balkans, where the public sector suffers from a dearth of planning capacity and resources for policy development.
Last but not least, the credibility of Western Balkan integration into the EU market could be enhanced. For the Western Balkans, the last few years have seen agonizingly slow progress in this area, with no country other than Croatia having so much as opened EU accession talks. The more realistic the perspective of EU membership for countries such as Serbia or Albania, the bigger the incentives for those interested in long-term investments in industrial production in the Balkans.
Integration with the EU market will be a critical anchor for economic development in the Balkans, but it will take more to ensure convergence. The example of Greece shows that
integration and access to funds is not enough. Greece is currently not able to absorb more than a third of EU structural and cohesion policy funding, because it has never benefited from the massive capacity-building and institutional support that has been given to the Fifth enlargement countries and Croatia. Looking on to the Western Balkan batch, the EU may consider increasing this support, emphasizing the administrative capacity for medium-term development in policy planning and coordination. Bringing development planning
into an earlier stage of the current accession process would allow each Balkan country to focus on the assessment of its competitiveness in agriculture and industry, and learn about the constraints to development faced by these sectors.
None of this is to suggest that there is a silver bullet for job creation. The Balkan development challenge is enormous, and there are deep structural reasons behind the staggeringly low rates of employment in the region – some reaching back into the 1980s and the very nature of socialist industrialisation. Reversing the long-term trend of employment decline is a generational project, made all the more difficult by the current cyclical conditions in Europe. But reindustrialisation has taken place in recent years in a number of new member states or candidates, from Poland to Slovakia. Numerous industrial development clusters – from Timisoara in Western Romania to the Istanbul region and many Anatolian tiger cities in Turkey – have seen growth and success. In all these cases, political elites at the national and local level have made the integration of local businesses into global chains of industrial production a strategic priority.
The lack of employment opportunities today in the Western Balkans is generating quiet despair, especially among the young. Without radical change, without a serious and visible commitment to a new set of policies, the sense if despair now palpable in the region may become burning. There is, in fact, no greater, more urgent, social and economic issue in the Balkans. Fortunately, experiences of successful industrial recoveries and turnarounds abound. Learning from them could turn around the fate of people in Leskovac, and countless other towns just like it.