Friday, June 24, 2005

Towards a Nerveous Balkans

In the next few days, I'm "re-basing" to the coast of Dalmatia in Croatia for parts of the summer. The intensity of the blogging might well suffer somewhat from the warmth of the Mediterranean summer.

It's a nerveous Balkans I'm coming to. In spite of official efforts to keep a good face, there is a deep unease over what might be happening with the process of enlargement of the European Union and how it will affect their futures.

Croatia is eagerly waiting for the possibility to start its accession negotiations, but so far failure to cooperate completely with the UN tribunal in the case of Croat general Gotovina indicted for war crimes in connection with the so called Operation Storm in August 1995 has held up progress.

The issue will be on the agenda when the EU foreign ministers meet in mid-July for their last meeting until October. If there hasn't been enough progress until then, there is a severe risk that the beginning of the Croat negotiations will slip until after the scheduled beginning of the talks for Turkey on October 3rd.

That would obviously put Croatia in a difficult position, and one can only hope that the steps will be taken that avoids this. The decision is primarily in the hands of Zagreb.

In Bosnia, much is at the moment centered on the 10th anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica on July 11th. Boris Tadic - President of Serbia - has been invited and will be among coming those coming for the commemorations.

But in this rather emotional climate, the country also has to come together for important reform decisions. Political tensions have heated up lately, with the Prime Minister dismissing the Foreign Minister for reasons that really had nothing with his job or his politics to do.

And this autumn, we will see the 10 year anniversary of the Dayton Peace agreement. I will have reason to come back to that more than once during the rest of the year.

In Serbia, expectations are increasing that one - the one way or the other - will be able to deliver also general Mladic - undoubtedly responsible for the massacre following the fall of Srebrenica - to the UN tribunal. This would create a good climate for the negotiations starting this autumn for a Stabilisation and Assocation Agreement with the European Union.

But it's next year that will be critical. Important issues en masse will be on the table. The status of Kosovo perhaps most difficult, but also the future of the state union between Serbia and Montenegro. And at some time during the year there will be a major EU conference to take decision on its future policies in the region, not least the enlargement perspective.

On Kosovo, the Ambassador of Norway Kai Eide has now been asked by the UN to assess how far one has come in fulfilling certain standards, notably in respect of minorities and other key democratic principles. His task is not an easy one, and I don't expect that we will hear much from him until September or so. He's a competent man with an integrity that can hardly be questioned.

Also this is an issue I'm likely to have reason to return to.

In Albania, the campaign for the July 3rd parliamentary elections is now entering its final phase. It will be crucial to see if the country can really run a free and fair election - the previous ones have been marked by irregularities and fraud - and possibly also a democratic and orderly transfer of power. Albania is the only country in the region which has not yet managed an orderly democratic change from one government to another.

And finally Macedonia - or the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as the official EU and UN designation still is. Here, one is awaiting the opinion of the European Commission on its application for EU membership. It's excepted during the autumn. In all probability, the EU will then take its decision in some sort of combination with the other Balkan decisions expected during next year.

There will be much to discuss around the dinner tables in Dalmatia during the next few weeks. The coming twelwe months or so will be of critical importance for the region.

And the region is of critical importance for the future of Europe.