„The preparation of the countries of the Western Balkans for integration into European structures is a major priority of the European Union“ -European Commission1
“ We the Heads of State or Government of the member States of the European Union, the acceding and candidate states, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, as potential candidates, and the President of the European Commission, in the presence of the President of the European Parliament, the Secretary General of the Council/High Representative, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Kosovo, the Special Co-ordinator of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe and the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, meeting in Thessaloniki, agreed today on the following:
1. We all share the values of democracy, the rule of law, respect for human and minority rights, solidarity and a market economy, fully aware that they constitute the very foundations of the European Union. Respect of international law, inviolability of international borders, peaceful resolution of conflicts and regional co-operation are principles of the highest importance, to which we are all committed. We vigorously condemn extremism, terrorism and violence, be it ethnically, politically or criminally motivated”.2
The selection of the previous paragraph is of extreme importance. It is the first paragraph of the so called “Thessaloniki declaration”, signed by the EU Member States and Western Balkans3 countries in the occasion which also signed a new phase in the relationships between these countries and the EU. The summit and the declaration identified the role and the obligations of both EU and Western Balkans countries in the future developments in the region. However it must be pointed out that most importance is given to the respect of the democracy and human rights. Something EU has always fostered and put forward in all of its agendas and policies, and therefor as well as in its policies towards the Western Balkans countries.
With the newest session of talks between Serbia and Kosovo, many say a new so called “love” triangle between EU, Kosovo and Serbia is created, in order to facilitate the negotiations on the resolution of Kosovo’s status and the resolution of the ongoing conflicts in that area. In any case one thing is certain; EU’s role is gaining everyday more and more importance in the Western Balkans.
EU has been very present in the Balkans and has supported the democratic transitions of all “new born” states that were created after the dissolution of Socialist Federalist Republic of Yugoslavia. Following the dissolution and the wars, severe structural development problems common in the whole region surfaced as a very visible signs of previous socialist system, which were then followed by an entire decade of wars, sanctions, and the displacement of populations. EU with its Stabilization and Accession Process has certainly been the greatest influence and factor of motivation and support in the positive changes and democratic transition that have followed the “empty years” of wars and sanctions. The sole purpose of the Stabilization and Association process4 is in promoting and fostering peace, stability, economic development and regional cooperation in order to open these countries to a future perspective of an EU membership.
That said I believe EU merits a privileged position in the conflict resolution in the region of Western Balkans. And I do not mean just because of the substantial economic interest that may lay there for all parties involved, but most of all because of the spreading of the values of the European Union and its acquis communitaire5. These values have brought the longest period of peace in Europe and a type of cooperation on an international level never seen before. Many forget that EU is more than just an economic cooperation project. It has never been just that. It was created in an aftermath of the most terrible war, out of fear of losing more human lives and because of a desire for a better future for the generations of tomorrow. Many states with much bigger differences and worst kind of historical grudges than those in Balkans have come together and created new mechanisms to guarantee a better future for them all. A truly sui generis6 creation that has made countries collaborate and overcome their differences and fight for common causes, such as: the economic development, democracy and the wellbeing of their citizens. The EU as an idea of united and economically strong Europe has reconciliated a whole continent after a most terrible of the events in contemporary history. This is why I believe that EU should and most definitely will play a significant role in the resolution of the conflicts between the countries in the Western Balkans, because it is surely and example of the “best practice” in the matter.
Many could of course discuss otherwise and influenced by the always more growing euroscepticism see EU’s interest in the Western Balkan countries as a pure economic benefit, but I don’t agree with that totally. I believe that no matter what EU’s interest are (and there are economic interest certainly), it is still giving us a hand in improving the lives of our citizens, it is giving our governments the impulse and the motivation to follow a positive example, that maybe
otherwise left to themselves they would not have, or at least not in this measure. Of course EU does not give unconditional support, the question of the conditionality’s within the accession process is very important in this matter. The conditionality’s such as the collaboration with the ICTY7 and the conditionality of regional cooperation have made the governments of Western Balkans countries pursue more strict and successful actions in these policy areas, and of course being that both conditionality’s have been imposed to all countries in the region, they have certainly also contributed to the process of reconciliation in the aftermath of the dissolution wars. The conditionality’s, such as the ICTY and regional cooperation and the role of the EU in any case remain quite controversial and prone to media abusage, but none the less, the countries of the Western Balkans have consciously agreed on perusing the European path and adopting the European values along the way (see Thessaloniki declaration). That said, a common future under the EU umbrella can in a certain way be predicted for the countries currently in process of conflict resolution and reconciliation. It is obvious that there is a will and interest to proceed on this path from all the parties involved and the input that EU is giving to this process cannot be undermined, because as stated by Vachudova (2003, p.141): “The EU is the single most important actor in the Western Balkans region and thereby in a unique position of promoting ethnic reconciliation, democratization and economic revitalization”.
As a young person in pursuit of a brighter future, I support the pursuit of the EU path of my country and that of my neighbors. I believe that within the process of the accession, and with turning to the big picture and pursuing development and stability, the will of the people will prevail. And what the people want is hope for a brighter future. There will be many of those who will consciously choose to live in the past, hold onto grudges and criticize guided by prejudice, but I believe there will always be many more of us, especially young people how will choose the future. There must always be those who will choose to look at the bigger picture and overcome the differences and fears in order to give space to new constructions and new inventions. That is how EU was created and it is also how it survived and how it will survive. These are the desires of people, human to human, peer to peer, no nationalities needed. A better future is what we all pursue and in that sense the respect of human needs and of the human life are never to be undervalued or undermined. The EU has made the respect of human rights one of its principle values and has spread those all over the world. The Western Balkans and its people should and I hope will adopt and truly implement the values which the EU is trying to spread, and hopefully many of us will one day while sitting in a café with our friends in some beautiful central square in Europe look at that flag and see a little yellow star that represents us and what we proudly stand for too.
1 Commission’s communication to Parliament and Council- the Western Balkans and the European Integration. COM (2003) 285 final, Brussels, 21 May 2003.
2 EU-WESTERN BALKANS SUMMIT(Thessaloniki, 21 June 2003) DECLARATION – 10229/03 (Presse 163)
3 The Western Balkans – Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Montenegro, FYR of Macedonia, Albania and since 2008 Kosovo
4 SAP – Stabilization and Association process – A process which usually has its official beginning with the signing of the Stabilization and Association agreements, which establish the official steps or changes that need to be made in order for the country to gain the possibility of a full accession to the EU. (Countries in WB have signed the agreements in different time periods)
5 Acquis communitaire – is a phrase that collectively describes the accumulated secondary legislation of European Union; it is passed under the provisions of the founding treaties and their subsequent amendments. It covers all the directives and regulations adopted by the EC. ( Phinnemore and McGowan, 2010)
6 Sui generis – one of a kind
– Commission’s communication to Parliament and Council- the Western Balkans and the European Integration. COM (2003) 285 final, Brussels, 21 May 2003.
– EU-WESTERN BALKANS SUMMIT (Thessaloniki, 21 June 2003) DECLARATION – 10229/03 (Presse 163)
– Phinnemore D. and Mc Gowan L. – “A Dictionary of the European Union”, Routledge, 2010
– Vachudova ,M.A.-“Strategies for Democratization and European Integration in the Balkans” in Cremona M (ed), “The Enlargement of the European Union”, Oxford University Press, 2003