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INFO   :::  Projects > Archives > The Helsinki Charter: Promoting Serbia's Europeanization > HC No. 139-140 > Text



Regional Prospects after the Summit Conferences at Brdo and Sarajevo


By Davor Gjenero

To all appearances, the effects of the referendum on ratification of the arbitration agreement on demarcation between Slovenia and Croatia, held in Slovenia on June 6, 2010, will benefit more the process of Western Balkans consolidation than the effects of the EU Ministerial Conference in Sarajevo of June 2. All the Sarajevo Summit attained was due to the "Gymnich format," a model for informal meetings of foreign ministers of EU member-states displaying no national symbols or official functions of the participants and as such enabling regional communication between representatives of Belgrade and Prishtina. The same model was used at the Brdo conference, nearby Kranj, Slovenia, during Sweden's presidency of EU. The conference was a failure since Belgrade refused to take part in it despite the fact that all the participants were presented in the same manner. Therefore, Spain, presiding EU, and Italy - organizers of the Sarajevo Summit - took no chances. At the same time, the referendum in Slovenia was a risky one: the majority giving the vote to the arbitration agreement was razor thin.

At first glance, Slovenian voters were just deciding on the relations between Slovenia and Croatia and Slovenia's willingness to finally unblock Croatia's pre-accession dialogue with Brussels, whereas the issue of borders was left for an ad hoc court to decide on once Croatia signs the pre-accession agreement with EU. However, the "deposit" was by far bigger. Slovenian Prime Minister Pahor's cabinet begun its mandate in late 2008 by dangerously ogling with Slovenian nationalism: so it blocked Croatia's pre-accession negotiations because of the unresolved border issue and the possible solution to it Croatia had prejudicated in the documents it submitted to EU.

In December 2008, Slovenian Prime Minister turned down the "French compromise," whereby the then EU presidency tried to keep up the continuity of Croatia's pre-accession negotiations. Croatia had made a commitment that its documents did not prejudicate the solution to the border issue and were null and void in a possible arbitration process. On the one hand, Slovenia's blockade and Pahor's flirtation with nationalism radicalized the Slovenian political arena and raised public expectations about concessions Slovenia could obtain at the delicate point of Croatia's accession to EU. On the other hand, they radicalized the opposition in Croatia. For the first time since it became a EU member-state (in May 2004) Slovenia has experienced isolation from EU institutions - because by turning down a compromise solution it had blocked not only Croatia's accession but also the policy of EU enlargement.

The then EU commissioner for enlargement, Olli Rehn, tried to solve the crisis through mediation. When on June 15, 2009, former Croatian premier, Ivo Sanader, rejected Rehn's plan about bringing the border issue before an ad hoc tribunal - that was not supposed to rule by international law only but just to decide the case before Croatia's accession to EU - key policymakers in EU "distanced" themselves from the issue. What ensued was an obviously strong though informal pressure from the European National Party on Prime Minister Sanader. It resulted in Sanader's resignation on July 1 and his replacement by Jadranka Kosor. Though EU pressure on Slovenia abated after June 15, Slovenian policymakers became fully aware of its power and their country's isolation within EU. And even before Sanader awkwardly jumped out of the negotiations, Sweden Foreign Minister Karl Bildt, preparing himself for the office of the president of EU Ministerial Council, announced activation of "Amsterdam mechanism" against Slovenia: the mechanism enabling EU to exclude a country consistently breaching the rule of law from decision-making on a specific issue or disfranchise it for good. True, the announcement was informal, publicized at Bildt's blog, but reflected, nevertheless, the predominant opinion of European policymakers at that point.

After Sanader's negotiating blunder, Bildt initiated EU "silence" and left it to member-states, i.e. their leaders, to "think things over." As it seems, both Slovenian and Croatian policymakers fully understood this "ear-splitting silence." The two countries launched efficient negotiations on the solution to their bilateral problem immediately after Sanader's resignation. Once the dialogue turned successful, key policymakers in Zagreb and Ljubljana decided to proceed further. Ljubljana obviously realized that something was badly wrong with its earlier policy for "EU neighborhood" and that Slovenia - Brussels' favorite, the first newly admitted member-state presiding the EU and "a success story" - could find itself overnight at EU's margins, in a "cucking stool" of sorts.

The answer to the question about Slovenia's major faux pas is the same as the answer to the question about Croatia's biggest mistake because of which it was so much lagging behind Bulgaria and Rumania in its movement towards EU membership. Though Zagreb's and Ljubljana's policies were fundamentally different in 1990s, the same as were the objective circumstances in the two countries, both have made the same mistake. Namely, in mid-1990s when Clinton's administration was intensively assisting EU to consolidate "a new Europe" both countries turned down a major offer. Croatia and Slovenia had been invited to join four new Central European democracies in the "Visegrad group:" the group of Baltic states supposed to help new democracies in the establishment of democratic institutions and in mutual reliance in their movement towards NATO and EU.

Convinced that democratic deficits of their societies were by far smaller than those of Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, both Slovenia and Croatia shrugged away the offer. Their self-assurance - totally mistaken as it turned out - cost Slovenia less than Croatia. True, because of its wavering Slovenia was not in the first circle of NATO enlargement in 1999 but joined the Alliance only in 2004. However, Slovenia did not waste time in its movement towards EU. As for Croatia, it was only in 2009 that it became a full-fledged member of NATO, whereas the end of its pre-accession negotiations with EU is still uncertain, let alone the ratification of the accession agreement by 27 member-states. Had it joined the Visegrad group, Croatia would have been a party to the Nice Agreement. Had that been the case, it would have caught "the second train" together with Bulgaria and Rumania in 2007 given that the consequences of Tudjman's dictatorship could have deprived it of the chances of being a part of the "big bang enlargement" in 2004.

Slovenia's loss, however, was not that small as it seemed at the beginning. Slovenia actually experienced its effects in 2009. The same as Baltic states, the "Visegrad group" still functions within EU as a pragmatic alliance of the states supportive of one another in the attainment of European-oriented goals and, has, therefore, more weight. Having found themselves isolated, Slovenian policymakers realized the significance of such strong alliance for EU. And Croatian policymakers, too, begun realizing that as a EU member-state Croatia would be nothing but a small and poor country at the periphery and strategically insignificant for EU unless it joined a strong regional alliance. The only card Croatia can play on is its knowledge of the area of the Western Balkans. And that's the same area that can be a niche for Slovenia's industry on the one hand, and a niche for its political influence on the other. So the missed chance for joining the "Visegrad group" imposed itself as a model for the cooperation Slovenia's and Croatia's prime ministers tried to launch at the Brdo Summit. There is yet another similarity between this concept and the history of the "Visegrad group." The latter was shaped with the assistance of the Clinton administration doing its best to help EU to prepare new democracies for a big enlargement. Nowadays, President Obama's administration is practically doing the same thing by supporting democratic consolidation of the Western Balkans.

The concept of the "Brdo process" has not a single common denominator with the alternative one Serbia's President Boris Tadic tries to formulate. Namely, there is no such thing as "regional leadership" in the concept of the "Visegrad group." So, despite the fact that it is by far a bigger countries than its partners in the group, Poland does not perceive itself as a regional leader nor do other countries treat it as such. Baltic states also base their partnership on a matrix, which is also characteristic of the Scandinavian alliance and the Benelux one. The concept of a regional metropolis, "export of stability" and "democratization transfer" is incompatible with the model by which EU is arranged, and originates from naive self-assurance that equals the one that once made Slovenia and Croatia snub the "Visegrad alliance." Naivety, ungrounded self-confidence and ignorance of European mechanisms cost one dear in the process of EU integration but also in that of a country's positioning within the Union, the same as one has to pay for domestic democratic deficits, deficiencies of political culture and political class' failures.

The problem with Croatia and Slovenia is that their governments pursue proper policies but inadequately advocate the values they are after. Both Croatia and Slovenia have turned towards the Balkans, until recently treated most pejoratively in the public. And such a U-turn in the search for a relevant political niche political elites of both countries have not exactly made in a democratic manner. They have not even tried to win over their respective publics for that policy. While arguing for the arbitration agreement, Slovenian Prime Minister Pahor was only touching on its enormous regional implications. Namely, had citizens voted against it at the referendum, new problems would arise in the Zagreb-Ljubljana relationship and made the alliance, envisaged at Brdo, hardly sustainable. True, the concept of such alliance is the one that sets aside all bilateral issues having nothing to do with "European affairs" of member-states. However, the blockade of Croatia's pre-accession negotiations (and even threats with a new blockade should the arbitration agreement fail) gave the border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia an undisputable "European dimension."

As it seems, Washington and Brussels have better understood the significance of the initiative launched at Brdo. And, they have also realized that the main reason why Tadic had turned down the invitation was not the presence of the Kosovo delegation and the "Gymnich format" of the meeting but the denial of the matrix-based regional cooperation. Hence, after the relatively unsuccessful Brdo Summit, Brussels' and Washington's policymakers decided to expose President Tadic to "the ear-splitting silence" for some time - the same silence imposed on Slovenian and Croatian leaders last year. Having opted for a "mild" conflict with the Croatian government in the establishment of his position abroad, it was the new Croatian president, Ivo Josipovic, who "pulled out" the Serbian President from this isolation. Josipovic opened the door for Tadic to the "asymmetric regional relations" offer. The liberally minded part of Croatian political elite, fed up with the rhetoric of keeping the Balkans at arm's length, warmly welcomed this new policy charted by presidents Tadic and Josipovic.

And yet, there are serious flaws in the "offer" made by Tadic and Josipovic. Any overt advocacy for asymmetry in regional relations is contrary to the tradition by which EU creates them. Moreover, joint advocacy for major regional solutions by Belgrade and Zagreb cannot but associate adverse experiences of the past. Besides, bilateral problems facing Serbia and Croatia are nowadays marginal from the angle of regional consolidation. Croatia is not involved in the Kosovo issue, presently a key regional question. Further, return of refugees and restitution of their property is not a bilateral issue but either the one of Croatia's relations with its own citizens or a trilateral one. An agreement between Belgrade and Zagreb (let alone the one made without Sarajevo) would certainly not play into the hands Bosnia-Herzegovina's constitutional reform securing its functioning as a decentralized, democratic and self-sustainable state of three constitutive nations. A possible offer implying establishment of a regional "axis" and calling on other countries in the region to be "clients" of a niche held either by Belgrade or Zagreb would be totally unacceptable.

A regional cooperation by a "matrix" model, similar to that of the Visegrad group stands more chances than ever before. Ljubljana that seemed to have "fled" from the Western Balkan context and Zagreb that has been less successful but declaratively more consistent in its escape from it, are now returning to this context by their own free will, investing it with new values and new experiences and, most importantly, with European pragmatism, until now unknown to politics in the Balkans. True, neither official Ljubljana nor official Zagreb seem to be willing to publicize this "return" to their respective political bodies. The Sarajevo Summit has definitely removed the obstacle to equality of all the countries sitting around the same table. The same as Zagreb and Ljubljana will have to learn pretty soon how to make no bones about Balkan cooperation based on equality as a desirable goal, Belgrade will either have to accept regional cooperation by "a matrix" model or risk to miss the opportunity of the next round of EU enlargement. And risk to loose its natural allies the same as Zagreb and Ljubljana have lost the partnership of Budapest, Warsaw, Prague and Bratislava.



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