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The Balkan Region


By Vladimir Gligorov

During her recent visit to Serbia German Chancellor Angela Merkel said what everyone knew at least since the European Union has established EULEX in Kosovo, which - exactly what its name says - has the duty to impose rule of law. What everyone also knows - at least since then - is that EULEX and parallel structures in Kosovo North, both dependent and independent from Belgrade authorities - cannot exist side by side. All that Ms. Merkel said was something like "the king is naked." And all at once seemed to have changed.

This means not that Serbia's application for EU candidacy will be turned down. Nor it means that negotiations on harmonization of Serbia's legal system with the one of EU will not begin. Finally, this means not that Serbia cannot further progress towards European integrations before dismantling the parallel institutions. In other words, Serbian authorities only have to take upon themselves to dismantle these structures because EU cannot possibly have a member-state in conflict with it in a disputable territory. The German Chancellor said the problem should better be solved sooner than later - but that was not an ultimatum or homework. Everybody is aware that Serbia-Kosovo relations must normalize and then formalize, and that the rule of law in Kosovo North should be established within the legal system of Kosovo and EU. Dedication to this goal and a progress towards it would at least help Serbia avoid unnecessary risks in the process of its movement towards EU membership. The conflicts over border crossing stations in Kosovo North sufficiently demonstrated the reality of such risks.

More important than Ms. Merkel's spelling out the common knowledge is that fact that her visit to Serbia was focused on one topic only - the issue of security that preconditions the achievement of all other political and economic objectives. Few are the countries having the highest German official in visit but no economic cooperation on the agenda. In planning this visit Serbian officials have obviously looked forward to getting Germany's support for the actual government's pro-European policy. What they disregarded was that the Germany Chancellor would not give her country's support just like that. Many other statesmen in visit to Serbia and routinely expressing their support to its "European course" just take upon themselves to give their vote to any decision by EU bodies when the time for decision comes. Germany is in charge of the agenda and implementation of EU decisions - politically, administratively and, of course, financially. Therefore Germany's support cannot be just an act of courtesy, meaning you cannot get it without clarifying its implications. If Belgrade governmental circles and those close to them were genuinely surprised by Germany's straightforwardness, that means that the people in charge of foreign policy and the policy of European integration know nothing.

Ever worse, not a word was spoken about the economic cooperation between the two countries. That means that the government and officials in charge of economic matters have either not prepared themselves for the meeting or not participated in its planning at all. Germany is the biggest exported of capital and a major importer of industrial and other products deriving from its investments. Given that the economic policy is directed towards the growth based on exports, industrialization and the growth in exports need foreign investment the more so since domestic savings are limited. German investment would be most precious in this context. As economic topics were not on the agenda at all, one can only conclude that security issues - not economic - predominate Germany's preoccupation with Serbia.

Things stand the same with the Balkans as a whole and as such indicate the prospects for the Balkans. The region in which security is still a crucial issue is now restricted to Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina (probably not entirely). The biggest part of the Balkans faces economic problems with inherent political consequences. But security is not a major risk facing businessmen and politicians alike. The manner in which Serbian authorities and Serbia's voters - now with the forthcoming elections - will react to these new challenges is still uncertain. No doubt that the German Chancellor's intervention will influence the election campaign and the alternatives to be offered to voters.

The public and voters in the entire Balkans are facing the choices imposed on them by the financial crisis and influenced by the changes within EU institutions and in the balance of power within and beyond the Union alike. Unlike the part of the Balkans still coping with basic constitutional problems and, hence, security risks, most Balkan countries have to face up serious structural changes - and all of them together need to work towards a much better regional cooperation. This is the more so important since the development in the Balkans depends on three crucial characteristics: open or latent security risks, uncompetitiveness and mutual distrust.

Latent or open conflicts cannot but affect democratization processes. Dictatorships in the Balkans were usual, whereas democracies were mostly attained through integration into EU. The integration in itself has a stabilizing effect because rules out possible animosities among countries and, therefore, sources of militarization and autocratic regimes. Besides, democracy and the rule of law - regardless of their shortcomings in some countries - precondition membership of EU. In return, this stabilizes democracy in the long run - at least as long as EU itself is in place.

In Balkan territories and states that have either not joined EU or are just about to start moving towards it, disputes over territories and sovereignty over some territory maintain animosities and reliance on force and, as such, can destabilize democratic institutions - if any or emerging. That is why in some circumstances democracy is almost impossible - as in the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina - authoritarian regime flourishes - like in Republika Srpska - parliamentary system is instable - as it is in Serbia - and consequent democracy hindered - like in Kosovo. Therefore, speaking generally at least, as long as security is the problem number one in a region, stable democracies there will be questionable, while possibilities for restored autocracies bigger.

Economies in the entire Balkans - except for Turkey that is not entirely a Balkan country - are uncompetitive. The whole region hinges on foreign funds, relatively limited production and export of labor force. A considerable part of population in the growing number of Balkan countries depends on the money sent by relatives working abroad. The prospects for changes are meager. Radical reforms are needed to change deep-rooted institutions and attitudes. This particularly implies quite different attitudes towards entrepreneurship, labor market and functioning of the public sector. At this point hardly anything indicates a change in the political in favor of these reforms. This decade will hardly witness a conversion. Developments in EU member-states and Croatia - to accede in mid-2003 - will considerably depend on economic developments in EU as a whole. But having itself to cope with consequences of the financial crisis and the upcoming institutional reconsideration, EU cannot be the much needed driving force of development in the Balkans.

A word or two on Balkan Euro-skepticism. How much sense it makes? For instance, should Euro zone break up and, consequently, ties within EU become looser, Europe would again find itself in the situation when everything depended on the relations between great powers. Everything would change for small countries - they would lose a forum enabling them to stand up for their interests and form coalitions that assist them in attaining these interests. Euro-skeptics in the Balkans disregard the fact that EU is above all a mechanism that restrains the power of big states, those that in the past, when not in war, used to settle their disputes to the detriment of smaller countries.

Finally, inability for regional cooperation is the basic problem in the Balkans. This is best exemplified in the case of ex-Yugoslavia. Apart from providing a reasonable frame for coexistence of different peoples in its territory, it was the best means of cooperation in the process of European integration. Since such a political frame was "tight" to everyone, it's not a surprise that peoples in dispute cannot cooperate at regional level after Yugoslavia's disintegration. One can hardly expect, therefore, regional cooperation to flourish against today's politically divided and economically devastated background.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit only refreshed everyone's memory. The shock caused by her statements best illustrates the uncertainty of the Balkan's future.



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