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A European vision for the Balkans

Chris Patten examines the challenges facing the European Union in southeastern Europe and analyses current policies to meet them.

Building Europe: The European Union has spent more than a 4.5 billion in the Balkans since 1991. (Strat & Com photo 24Kb)

In the 20th century, southeastern Europe influenced European affairs in a manner disproportionate to its size or economic might. The last century began and ended with major European powers militarily engaged in the region. These repeated military commitments are testimony to the regions enduring significance. Our determination to avoid further conflict in the 21st century is one reason why the major European institutions, including the European Union, are now investing significant political and economic capital in building stability in this strategic region.

The challenges are clearly enormous: shattered infrastructure, a ruined industrial base, thousands of refugees and displaced persons and a legacy of ethnic suspicion. Nevertheless, our experience in Europe after 1945 shows that change is possible. Reconstruction of a new Europe was made possible after the Second World War by the will to put conflicts behind us, the desire to achieve better lives for our children, the determination to rebuild and the willingness of friends to help. With others, the European Union is providing help to the countries of southeastern Europe. The area will test the mechanisms at our disposal, both our traditional assistance and trade policies and the new structures of the Common European Security and Defence Policy that we are currently putting in place. Using them, we are determined to win the peace. Assuming the countries of the region accept help and make wise choices, there is no reason why they too cannot become stable democracies with successful market economies an outcome which will benefit both them and us.

The Stability Pact, originally an EU initiative launched in June of last year, is a major step along the path of recovery. The Pacts three tables which cover democracy and human rights, economic reconstruction, and security aim to promote reform, reconstruction and regional cooperation. To maintain momentum, the European Union and its partners have stressed the need to demonstrate results quickly on the ground. For this reason, the most recent funding conference in March 2000 discussed a comprehensive quick-start package of regional projects and initiatives that will begin during the next twelve months. At the conference donors pledged over a 2.4 billion, thereby more than financing the proposed package. The conference stressed, however, that stabilisation efforts are a two-way street. The aim is to help the countries of southeastern Europe to help themselves. In order to replicate Western Europes renaissance after the Second World War, they must improve governance, create the conditions for genuine private enterprise, fight corruption, strengthen social cohesion and cooperate with each other to mutual advantage.

Many countries of the region have already recognised that their best future lies not in xenophobia and isolation but in participating in the process of European integration. In response, as a special contribution to the Stability Pact, the European Union has opened the prospect of full integration into EU structures. The European Union is now offering Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia), Croatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Yugoslavia) and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1) tailor-made Stabilisation and Association Agreements. This new form of contractual relationship holds out the carrot of integration into EU structures, trade liberalisation, financial assistance, help with democratisation and civil society, humanitarian aid for refugees, cooperation in justice and home affairs, and the development of a political dialogue in return for political and economic reform and regional cooperation. In effect, the European Union is offering to share its political and economic future with the countries of the western Balkans.

The Stabilisation and Association Agreements emphasise and require regional cooperation, this being a core element of any lasting solution to southeastern Europes problems. Developing trade and infrastructure links, managing mutual borders and promoting cross-cultural interaction require cooperation across both internal and external dividing lines. Also, such activity is a useful preparation for future integration into European structures, which are themselves based on inter-regional and international cooperation. Progress on reform has allowed the opening of negotiations on Stability and Association Agreements with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and more recently with Croatia, while for Albania a feasibility report has been submitted. A feasibility study on such an agreement with Bosnia has yet to begin.

At the same time, EU aid to the region continues. The European Union is by far the single biggest assistance donor to the western Balkans as a whole. Since 1991, through its various aid programmes the European Union has provided more than a 4.5 billion. For the year 2000 over a 520 million is available in the context of the aid programmes PHARE and OBNOVA alone. The European Union also leads on the ground. In Kosovo some 36 000 troops and 800 civilian police from EU member states serve alongside the European Commission, which in turn works with other international partners. The European Union heads the European Reconstruction Agency, the department of the UN Mission to Kosovo responsible for economic reconstruction and it is the single largest donor to the rebuilding process. Further to the east, Romania and Bulgaria, now both candidates for EU membership, together receive approximately a 900 million per year in pre-accession aid.

Unfortunately, Serbia under Slobodan Milosevic has chosen to stand aside from positive engagement with the European Union and the wider international community. While Serbia cannot prevent its neighbours forging stronger links with Western Europe, it lies at the heart of the region and retains the capacity to export conflict. Regional stability will be endangered until Yugoslavia takes it rightful place as part of a new, peaceful and democratic order in the Balkans. Milosevic and his government not the Serbian people are the biggest obstacle to such development.

Since the Milosevic regime is the stumbling block, the European Union has exercised pressure on the Serbian government through isolation and the maintenance of sanctions. At the same time, aware that isolation could itself become an obstacle to change in Serbia, the European Union has tried to target sanctions by focusing on individuals close to the regime. Meanwhile, the European Union is attempting to help the Serbian population through imaginative forms of humanitarian aid such as Energy for Democracy, a programme to supply oil to opposition- ruled municipalities, and support to independent media. Significantly, the flight ban has been lifted and contacts have been developed with reformist local administrations and the still largely unfocused political opposition. The example of growth and increasing prosperity in other parts of the former Yugoslavia will, in time, hopefully induce a greater push for reform within Serbia itself.

The European Union continues to support democratic and economic reform in Montenegro, Serbias junior partner in Yugoslavia, while discouraging moves towards independence. However, the European Union believes Belgrades destabilisation efforts in Montenegro have not been sufficiently compensated by international assistance and that efforts in the areas of budgetary, humanitarian and technical aid need to be reinforced. Montenegros lack of statehood should not be an obstacle to such aid.

In Kosovo, short-term measures designed to shore up peace remain important. Here our aim is to prevent new crises, particularly in the Presevo valley and in Mitrovica. In conformity with UN Security Council Resolution 1244, we must continue to ensure sufficient security for the roots of political compromise and economic regeneration to take hold. The participation of Kosovos Serbs in the Joint Administration structures may suggest that current policy is beginning to bear fruit.

The prospect of European integration has been a powerful force for change in the western Balkans. In Bosnia and in Croatia change has been supported by the institution of so-called Consultative Task Forces in which the European Union and the corresponding national authorities discuss the priorities and practicalities of change, reform and integration. The Consultative Task Forces are forums for regular consultations, enabling us to drive the process forward together. The European Union hopes that similar institutions will eventually be introduced in other southeastern European countries.

Undoubtedly, more can and should be done. Aid is useful; trade is decisive. Already the European Union has a liberal trade regime towards southeastern Europe, allowing more than 80 per cent of regional exports to enter the European Union duty free. However, the European Union proposes to go further. Free trade agreements are foreseen as part of the Stabilisation and Association Agreements, and we are already pushing the countries of the region to negotiate free trade agreements with each other to optimise their comparative advantages. Immediate free trade with the European Union would, however, be a shock to regional economies, depriving them, for example, of the customs revenue that for many governments is a key source of income. The European Union therefore intends to bring forward further proposals soon on measures aiming at further opening of the EU market prior to the negotiation of Stability and Association Agreements.

All analyses identify the centrality and subversive potential of crime and corruption in the region. The European Union could use its experience with the 1998 Pre-Accession Pact on Organised Crime between the Member States of the European Union and the Applicant Countries of Central and Eastern Europe and Cyprus to good effect, ensuring that it is closely coordinated with the Stability Pacts third, security table.

The European Unions provision of development, technical and humanitarian assistance and our insistence on tying this assistance to progress in building democracy, respecting human rights and good gover-nance mean that our policies vis--vis the Balkans have a large in-built conflict-prevention component. Our aim is eventually to create in southeastern Europe a sit-uation in which military conflict becomes unthinkable. As the situation in Kosovo demonstrates, we are, however, still some way from that goal. For this reason, the European Unions decision to create by 2003 a rapid reaction force of up to 60 000 troops, capable of mobilising within 60 days and executing humanitarian, crisis management, peacekeeping and peace-making operations is important. Moreover, the decision to develop non-military crisis response tools in areas such as humanitarian aid, civilian police deployment and training, border controls, mine clearance and search and rescue has an all too evident relevance for some parts of the Balkans. To facilitate this, a Rapid Reaction Facility is foreseen, which should allow us to mobilise financial and other resources within hours or days rather than weeks or months.

Both Javier Solana, the European Unions first high representative for foreign policy, and I see the creation of stability in southeastern Europe as a priority. The evidence of this is our frequent visits to the region. We see this as a way to develop a comprehensive dialogue, to create momentum and to drive the agenda forward. In this we shall continue to work closely both with our partners in the international community and all those working for progress in the region itself. This engagement is costly in terms of time, manpower and money, but infinitely preferable to the military commitments and conflict that so often characterised the past one hundred years. The creation of a new region of stability and security is a goal worthy of a new century.

Note: Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.

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