Saturday, March 11, 2006

Balkan Failure in Salzburg?

Yesterday and today the Foreign Ministers of the European Union are meeting informally in Salzburg in Austria under Ulrika Plassnik, the Austrian Foreign Minister.

It's the informal meeting that happens twice each year. Originally ment to allow a more free-wheeling and less prepared discussion, these meetings have over time become more formal as well.

Originally, the Balkans was supposed to be the great issue at this meeting. All the Foreign Ministers of the Balkan states have been invited for a discussion. And there will be a communique issues afterwards - most unusual.

But what was supposed to take the Balkan policy of the EU forward now risks taking it backwards.

It was at the summit meeting in Thessaloniki in Greece in 2003 that one formally opened up a membership perspective for all the Balkan states. It was a most important step.

And there has been progress since then. Croatia is negotiating for membership. Macedonia has been given candidate status.

But in the discussions leading up to Salzburg there has been fierce resistance against spelling out a firmer membership perspective for the region. On the contrary, new conditions have been added, and the language on the European perspective watered down and watered down.

It's primarily driven by France, although there are some others following in its wake.

What the French really want is beyond me. They are not saying that enlargement will never happen, but they are putting brakes on every single little step that could conceivable take the Union in that direction.

It's a policy without an aim. It's tactics without a strategy.

The discussion during the day will show the extent to which other member states are prepared to accept that the entire European policy in the region is dragged down by this.

Salzburg will be an important debate.