10 May 2006
Dear friends of ESI,
Two months ago, ESI warned that the EU Foreign Ministers, meeting in Salzburg on 11 March, had "missed an opportunity to reassure the Western Balkan region that its European prospects are not slipping into the distant future."
Yesterday, an eminent group of European leaders met in Rome to consider the situation in the Balkans. They issued a strongly worded declaration deploring the failure at Salzburg and warning of the consequences of European ambiguity over the future of enlargement in the Balkans. The Rome Declaration of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, states:
"The Salzburg meeting conveyed the message that the EU is neither ready nor willing to offer credible membership perspectives. We can only regret this unfortunate development. It is in the Balkans that the EU must show that it has the power to transform weak states and divided societies.
This is imperative for the Balkans, but no less so for the EU. Unless the EU adopts a bold accession strategy which integrates all Balkan countries into the Union within the next decade, it will remain mired as a reluctant colonial power at enormous cost in places like Kosovo, Bosnia and even Macedonia. The real referendum on the EU's future will take place in the Balkans."
The International Commission called for a realistic route for membership for all of the Balkan countries. This strong message, coming from leading European policy makers – including Carl Bildt, Kemal Dervis, Richard von Weizsaecker, Kiro Gligorov and Janez Potocnik – is an encouragement to the citizens of the Balkans to continue pressing their claim to EU integration. Arguments about "absorption capacity" must not become an excuse for proactive engagement with a strategically vital region that represents no more 4 percent of the EU population.
ESI strongly supports this message from the International Commission. It is appropriate for the European Commission and for member states to insist on strict compliance with conditionality on EU integration, including concerning cooperation with the ICTY. However, those states that meet the conditions should be reassured that their efforts will be recognised, and that they will receive the same support as was offered to previous accession countries.
ESI calls on the Austrian EU presidency to put the Balkans high on the agenda of the EU summit in June 2006. Concretely, the summit should underline that if Macedonia holds free and fair elections this summer and makes solid progress in addressing the issues raised in last year's Commission report on Macedonia, then membership negotiations could be launched later this year. The launch of negotiations should coincide with the lifting of visa requirements for Macedonian citizens.
The same promise should be extended to other countries of the region able to demonstrate sustained efforts towards European integration. They should be told in clear language that candidate status and membership negotiations are within their reach.
Such a commitment would send a crucial signal that political stability and a commitment to multiethnic democracy offers real benefits. It would strengthen the hand of reformers, and counteract the despondency that fear of enlargement fatigue has spread throughout the region.
The Austrian government pledged to make the Europeanisation of the Balkans the central issue of its EU presidency. All EU members committed themselves to a European future for the region. The EU summit in June 2006 is the time to make good on these promises. As status talks on Kosovo move towards a decisive phase this summer, this signal is needed more than ever.
International Commission on the Balkans
12 April 2006
In the report we issued one year ago, we concluded that the current status quo in the Western Balkans is dangerous and unsustainable and that European integration is the only way to bring development and prosperity to the region. Today, our views remain unchanged.
We are concerned, therefore, that European leaders have lost their courage to implement the commitment they made in 2003 to bring the region into the EU. Alarmed by the results of the referenda in France and the Netherlands on the ratification of the EU constitution, the leaders of the EU have retreated into policies that, instead of transforming the Balkans, propose merely to manage the status quo.
Two months ago at Salzburg, the EU failed to reassure the peoples of the Western Balkans that it is irreversibly committed to integrating them as soon as possible. The Salzburg meeting conveyed the message that the EU is neither ready nor willing to offer credible membership perspectives.
We can only regret this unfortunate development. It is in the Balkans that the EU must show that it has the power to transform weak states and divided societies. This is imperative for the Balkans, but no less so for the EU. Unless the EU adopts a bold accession strategy which integrates all Balkan countries into the Union within the next decade, it will remain mired as a reluctant colonial power at enormous cost in places like Kosovo, Bosnia and even Macedonia. The real referendum on the EU's future will take place in the Balkans.
Regrettably, at Salzburg the accession date for those in the Western Balkans aspiring to EU membership drifted into the unforeseeable future. The countries of the Western Balkans were offered never-ending accession talks. What constitutes a breach of promise is that this date will be determined not only by the readiness of the accession countries, but also by the so-called 'absorption capacity' of the EU. The truth is that the population of the small Balkan countries is about 4 percent of the EU population today. The challenge is not to the "absorption capacity" but to the moral capacity of the Union.
The Salzburg meeting has turned the need for 'smart visa' policies aimed at winning the trust of the public into a vague and unattractive promise of 'visa facilitation'. The result will be further marginalization and isolation of European-minded youth in the Balkans for whom Europe is today blocked by the Schengen wall. As things stand now, the citizens of countries like the Russian Federation and Ukraine will enjoy a more generous visa regime than people from potential EU candidates in the Balkans. This is not what Europe committed itself to in Thessaloniki in 2003.
In our view, the retreat from the Thessaloniki commitment and of the policy consensus that was born of it can lead to serious and damaging developments in the region. Lacking sufficient economic growth, functioning states and credible European prospects, the region risks becoming a ghetto on the outskirts of the EU. The crisis of the European perspective is at the heart of the crisis in the Balkans today. In the case of Kosovo, the absence of a credible European prospect of membership removes a crucial incentive for Belgrade and Pristina to agree on a solution.
What is needed today is a return to the spirit of the 2003 Thessaloniki consensus and to the policies that follow from it. The EU must offer a realistic route for membership to the countries and societies from the Balkans. It must develop policies that will guarantee free visas, educational opportunities and freedom of movement for the younger generation, especially students, as well as the business community in the countries of the Western Balkans. Without such policies, all efforts of the EU to build trust and hope in the European future of the region are doomed to fail.
We expect Europe to live up to its promise.