Πέμπτη, 27 Μαΐου 2010

A New Era for the Balkans?

A New Era for the Balkans?

Author: Dr. Vasilis Margaras
23 May 2010 - Issue : 886

There are signs of hope regarding recent developments in the Balkans. Various new trends point to a more optimistic scenario for the future of the region.
Croatia is steadily on the road to EU accession with the opening up of three more negotiation chapters. The newly elected Croatian President Josipovic, personifies the new style of politics (a man with academic credentials, eloquent, a person with artistic talent and social sensibilities) that is gradually emerging in the area. This change of style contradicts the harsh nationalistic rhetoric of the past decade and makes way for optimism regarding further regional cooperation.
Serbia is changing. The recent recognition of the Srebrenica massacre by the Serbs indicates that the paraphernalia of the extreme right is on its way to being confined to historic archives. The Croatian President also issued an apology for the role of Croats in Bosnian atrocities. At last, the time to move on is nigh.

Positive developments are underway also between Greece and
FYROM on the question of how to name the latter. The situation which previously did so much to divide the two states is improving, and though no compromise has been yet reached, at least both sides are now willing to sit at the same table in a conciliatory spirit. It should also be mentioned that apart from the ‘name’ question, bilateral relations on other matters (e.g. financial/environmental cooperation) are good and continue to improve.  Although an air of optimism is blowing in the area, a lot more needs to be done in order to achieve a law abiding, peaceful and fully cooperative region. Corruption is a major problem for all Balkan countries. It absorbs valuable resources and stifles the productive forces of the region. It endangers the future of the youth and the welfare state of the fragile and the elderly. On this issue, the EU has already put its stamp on the area. The recent punishment of Romania and Bulgaria for mismanagement of EU funds indicates that corrupt use of EU funds is no longer acceptable.
Greece is also under severe pressure to conform to EU economic standards and deal with its own demons. Cuts are underway in the wasteful Greek public state. Efforts to improve efficiency and strengthen the rule of law should continue both within and outside the EU Member States.
In the case of the Western Balkans, the EU can influence policy outcomes as it holds the carrot of EU accession. It is, however, time to deal with the EU’s own internal delays and bureaucracies so that the European Union can become more effective. A clear EU language and decisive action is necessary. As the Americans have long ago turned their attention to other geopolitical issues, it is only the EU that can end up with all the bad habits of the past by clearly indicating that ‘this is not the way we do it in Europe’.
Europeans cannot afford to forget the Balkans. Trends of crime and corruption have the Balkans as their base, but spread their tentacles throughout Europe. The EU has not thus far been capable of putting the issue of transparency at the forefront of discussions and is therefore now confronted with its own ‘wait and see’ strategy. 
The EU should put more pressure on those Member States whose progress records are limited. Bosnia Herzegovina, for instance, remains stable but also stagnant. It is of great relief that the country evolved from the state of atrocities that took place in its territory in the past. Political and economic stagnation, however, is not in the interests of the population. The Dayton Agreement has shown its limits. Time has come to think ahead. The EU must be ready to take the lead in discussions regarding future internal arrangements of the country, with the aim to achieve a less complicated and more viable framework.
The EU has to deal successfully with Kosovo. The EU cannot simply be happy with the outcome of a half-baked ‘independent’ entity that it contributed to create. It has to confront the real problems. Although massive resources have been pulled in the area, results are thus far meagre. Corruption, drugs/human trafficking and trans-border crime are endemic and hinder the future of the whole region. Condemnation of corruption is not sufficient: the EU must take steps to ensure the creation of a law abiding society -perhaps with the help of new Common Security and Defence missions.
EU action focus should also be on reducing poverty and unemployment, which have reached gigantic proportions. Apart from propagating democratic and human rights norms, more EU effort needs to be made in relation to the currently fragile socio-economic situation of Western societies. The hasty imposition of market liberalization and deregulation may have detrimental effects to the fragile wellbeing of the Balkans populations. The area definitely needs change, but certainly not another wave of social unrest.
The EU should take steps to ensure that the Western Balkans can unleash their full potential. These countries are rich in culture and traditions. They possess picturesque and unspoiled landscapes. The tourism sector is expanding and green agriculture could become an alternative source of income. Recently, the EU Danube Strategy was established, which aims at bringing together all Danube areas and cities in common cultural, environmental and financial initiatives. The project also integrates part of the Balkans. It should further inspire the Balkan states and regions to create other similar projects.
 Apart from the EU mechanism, democratic political forces, NGOs and academia in the rest of the world should embrace the above-mentioned Balkan signs of hope, and strive to contribute to the progress of the regions with specific exchange programmes and training initiatives. Certain German "think tanks" have been particularly good with targeted actions. It is time for the others to follow suit.
Nevertheless, no matter what the EU (or other external actors) may do, it is up to the Balkan states to take the lead. EU Accession provides a useful tool to promote a change of policy practices and social norms in the Western Balkans. Change, however, must occur in practice, not only on paper. The EU should make clear to candidate Member States that they cannot just simply ‘pick and choose’ what suits from within the EU package; they have to comply with the whole ‘EU acquis’. The political will to impose change will be for the own good of the Balkan people: it will be extremely difficult for Western European politicians to sell the ‘Western Balkan’ enlargement to their sceptical publics if no positive achievements are evident.

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