17 June 2008
New ideas for EU policy towards the Western Balkans

Twelve ideas for action to bring the Western Balkans into the European fold are suggested in a new paper on EU policy towards this region that was launched in Brussels on 17 June 2008. ESI, represented by its chairman Gerald Knaus and senior analyst Alexandra Stiglmayer, contributed to this report, which is the brainchild of a task force of a total of twelve international Balkan experts assembled by the European Policy Centre.

Leon Marc, head of the Southeast Europe division at the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called the report "passionate and ambitious." In terms of strategy, the suggestions in the paper – its full title is The Balkans in Europe: containment or transformation? Twelve ideas for action – range from developing clear exit strategies from the protectorates in Bosnia and Kosovo to avoiding double standards in the application of the criteria to the different countries, and using progress in some countries as an encouragement to the others.

The taskforce also proposes to continue to foster regional cooperation in order to avoid new dividing lines in the Balkans, to drop the visa restrictions for citizens of the Western Balkan countries, and to engage directly with the peoples and societies in the region to convey Europe's messages.

As regards action, the paper calls on all Western Balkan countries that have not yet done so to submit applications for EU membership, on the EU to respond affirmatively and to rapidly commence with the screening exercise. The EU should also decide on the institutional adaptations necessary for all candidates once this becomes necessary for Croatia, if it remains the next country to join the EU (number of votes in the Council, threshold for qualified majority voting, number of MEPs). Lastly, the taskforce appeals on the next EU Presidency trio - France, the Czech Republic and Sweden – to continue to give priority to the region.

The launch of the report attracted more than 100 people. It included a lively discussion between the audience and a panel comprising Leon Marc; Ivan Vejvoda, director of the Balkan Trust for Democracy; Jelica Minic, Deputy Secretary-General of the Regional Cooperation Council; as well as Graham Avery and Rosa Balfour from the EPC. In relation to the No to the EU's Lisbon Treaty in the Irish referendum the previous weekend, all speakers maintained that enlargement can continue based on the Nice Treaty.

Apart from Gerald Knaus and Alexandra Stiglmayer, the taskforce members included Franz-Lothar Altmann, Judy Batt, Fabrice de Kerchove, Pàl Dunay, Spyros Economides, Antonio Missiroli, Jacques Rupnik and Lidija Topic.

The Balkans in Europe: containment or transformation? Twelve ideas for action