Thessaloniki and After I: The EU’s Balkan Agenda
The EU-Western Balkans Summit to be held in Thessaloniki on 21 June runs a real risk of discouraging reformers and increasing alienation in the Balkans, unless European policies towards the region are substantially enriched.
The current EU policies – the Stabilisation and Association Process (Sap), and the Stability Pact – were established in the uncertain days of 1999, immediately following the Kosovo crisis. They combine a standard set of bilateral initiatives with exhortations to the states of the region to cooperate with each other more.
An effective strategy for stabilisation of the Western Balkans and their integration into the EU should be based on the following elements, enabling all entities to be fully included, but allowing each to proceed at its own pace, with none feeling that they are being held back by the slowness of others:
- An unambiguous commitment should be made that the countries of the region will be welcomed as EU members once the established criteria are fulfilled. The states and entities should be afforded pre-accession status, notwithstanding that actual accession negotiations will begin at different points, depending on the individual circumstances of each case.
- The financial commitment to the region should be increased, such that the countries and entities concerned are not disadvantaged in comparison with the current EU membership candidates.
- Assistance to the region should be tied to a clear program of benchmarks for reform, worked out in partnership between the EU and the countries themselves, with regular assessment and the application of strict conditionality, within the framework of European Partnerships, which should be regarded as the cornerstone of the SAp.
- The European Partnerships should be applied flexibly, dealing with central, regional or local levels of government, as appropriate. As such, they should be applied to each country and entity in the region, notwithstanding the fact that some of them have yet to define their ultimate status. The SAp Tracking Mechanism should be incorporated into the European Partnerships approach, so that Kosovo would be at no disadvantage within the SAp on account of its unresolved status.
- The Western Balkan states should be given the option of customs union with the EU in advance of membership.
The EU must plan to resolve the outstanding status issues sooner rather than later.
Sarajevo/Belgrade/Podgorica/Pristina/Brussels, 20 June 2003: