In the course of the 1990s, the violent disintegration of the former Yugoslavia was one important catalyst for the European Union’s determination finally to become a serious political actor in international affairs and to take onto itself the task to create a “Europe whole and free”. Developments in the Western Balkans displayed the exact opposite of everything which Europe aspired to: nationalism instead of Europeanism, violence instead of peace and intolerance instead of mutual comprehension and cooperation. This is why the region has not only posed a security problem to Europe, but has challenged the European project at its core.
Twelve years after the Dayton accords terminated the Bosnian civil war, the records are mixed. Genocide and war were halted in Bosnia and Kosovo, while ethnic war was prevented from occurring in Macedonia. Among the former members of the Yugoslav Federation, one has already become a member of the European Union (Slovenia), while another is well on its way towards accession (Croatia). On the other side of the balance sheet, ethnicity, with its heavy baggage of mutual mistrust and power-politics, has remained the dominant policy factor in most countries of the region. Political and economic reforms are stagnating in many parts, especially in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.
2007 and 2008 may turn out to be decisive years for the region. In December 2007, the international community and the parties involved are due to find a solution to the unresolved question of Kosovo’s future international status. As of today, the positions of Serbia and the Kosovo Albanians are irreconcilable. The Albanian government in Pristina seems to be heading towards a unilateral declaration of independence even without Serbian agreement—an outcome which could ignite further bitterness in Belgrade and split the European Union. The looming decision over Kosovo also has already contributed to rising tensions in Bosnia. In 2008, the international Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe—since 1998 the central coordination forum for the EU’s engagement in the Balkans—is due to transfer its competences and activities to a new body under regional ownership. Whether or not this process will be successful will also depend on the developments in Bosnia and Kosovo.
To what extent has the Western Balkans begun to move beyond the “Dayton Agenda”, which has focused on coexistence along ethnic lines, towards the “European Agenda” of cooperation and integration across ethnic lines? While the former agenda has mainly rested on external pressure, the latter will depend on support and dedication from the regional actors themselves.
Unfortunately, the Dayton agenda is far from being accomplished: ethnic conflict and precarious state institutions in this region continue to pose serious risks which need to be dealt with. Even though the EU has increasingly focused on global political and security problems—such as terrorism and the spread of deadly weapons—the true challenge remains in Europe itself. While the Union does not lack in ambition to become a unique security actor through its ability to integrate civilian, economic and military tools in crisis management and post-conflict reconstruction, the reality has displayed a considerable gap between those ambitions and real capabilities. Still, the EU has narrowed this gap, not least by learning from experience on the ground in Bosnia, developing pragmatic ad hoc solutions and institutional innovations at the operational level, rather than by grand institutional design.
A difficult balance must be struck, between a renewed and robust engagement in the Western Balkans and the need to make reform efforts locally self-supporting. In the end, it is the people of the region themselves who hold the key to their future.
Marco Overhaus is Research Associate and Project Manager at the Chair for International Relations and Foreign Policy at the University of Trier.
This article is an excerpt from the latest issue of Foreign Policy in Dialogue, a publication of http://www.deutsche-aussenpolitik.de at the University of Trier.
Related Materials from the Atlantic Community:
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- Nikolas Gvosdev asks Will Kosovo End the Transatlantic Honeymoon?
- Ulf Gartzke on Kosovo: The Next Transatlantic Clash?
- Lack of EU Solidarity Jeopardizes Kosovo Independence