A Balkan rethink is required before it is too late

By Pauline Neville-Jones

Financial Times

Published: June 6 2005

Today, there is no fighting in the Balkans, there is no ethnic cleansing and there are elections. There has been progress in the decade since the Bosnia peace agreement. But, Croatia aside, the former Yugoslavia is drifting. Political development is stunted, unemployment high, growth low and corruption pervasive.

More dangerous is the fact that, as the International Crisis Group recently reported, Kosovo stands on the edge of renewed conflict. Pessimism prevails among suspicious, isolated people who are unable to get visas to travel abroad. The Balkans is becoming ghettoised as the gap between the region and the rest of Europe widens.

The international community continues to pour in money. Almost half of Europe's deployable military force is stuck there. Exit is impossible as long as Bosnia is governed by an imposed proconsular figure, the status of Kosovo is undecided and the region lacks a vision of the future.

The European Union needs to fulfil the promise its leaders made in Thessalonika in 2003 to integrate the Balkan countries. This can only mean enlargement of the Union. If the EU reneges, there are two possible outcomes: Europe entrenches empire merely to keep law and order, or it lets go to the revived forces of nationalism and conflict. Both are deeply unappealing.

The International Commission on the Balkans, led by Giuliano Amato, the former Italian prime minister, recently issued a report onthe way forward.*The commission is clear that present policy, which evolved piecemeal, will no longer do. A coherent, long-term action plan leading to the establishment of stable and open societies is urgently needed.

The commission proposes three big steps towards integration. First, a summit should be held in 2006 at which the Balkan countries would be set on their respective roads to EU accession. Most countries will first need extensive preparation in which institutions are built and small national markets opened up to the regional free trade that is indispensable to attracting private investors. The region should provide its own security. All the countries should join Nato's Partnership for Peace. The role played by Nato in central and eastern Europe in modernising armed forces and creating the climate of confidence indispensable to stability should be replicated in the Balkans.

Policy on justice and human rights needs adjustment. It is easier for local leaders to refuse to surrender indicted war criminals than to improve their international standing by complying with outside pressure. Balkan governments cannot escape their obligations to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, but the commission considers that co-operation so far has been good enough to move to the stage of "Europe Agreements" - in which resources would start to flow in the context of countries enforcing standards.

In Kosovo, "standards before status" blocks decisions that are urgently needed to prevent a new slide into violence. The United Nations is right to have instituted a review of its weak administration that is barely in control of local political infighting. The commission advocates an early start on staged moves (which require the co-operation of Belgrade) to full sovereignty realised within, but only within, the EU. Kosovo's independence arouses strong emotions. But neither return to rule from Belgrade or doing nothing is an option.

The commission's polling suggests that Kosovo's independence would not lead to the dismemberment of Bosnia but could tempt Kosovo Albanians to seek a "Greater Albania" that could drive conflict in Macedonia along ethnic lines. The EU must use its muscle to enforce acceptable outcomes.

The EU needs to rethink its thin policy towards Serbia-Montenegro. Managing Kosovo requires this, as does the need either to revive or put an end to the dysfunctional federation.

Finally, Bosnia. Much has been achieved under international administrators but their power now stops local leaders assuming their responsibilities. A special EU negotiator, exercising soft power rather than sovereignty, should replace them - and soon.

The commission has suggested an ambitious accession timetable. Substance must have priority over timing. But the EU should rise to the challenge of bringing the Balkans into the European mainstream not later than a century after the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, which sparked the cataclysms of the 20th century.

* www.balkan-commission.org

Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, who was a member of the International Commission on the Balkans, is chairman of QinetiQ