Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Third Report

2 External players

The European Union

6. Chief amongst the regional players is the European Union; Brussels is the ultimate destination of the Western Balkan states. The Conclusions to the European Council in March 2003 in Thessaloniki "emphasised that the future of the Western Balkans is within the European Union and pledged the Union's full support to the endeavours of the countries of the region to consolidate democracy, stability and to promote economic development."[6] Similarly, the FCO said in its submission: "The EU's fundamental aim for the countries of the Western Balkans is EU accession, extending to the region the area of peace, stability and growing prosperity enjoyed by its existing members."[7]

7. Over 80% of the population supports EU accession in Serbia,[8] while a submission to our inquiry from the Embassy of Macedonia stated that "EU membership is an idea that unites and inspires everybody in Macedonia—the government, all political parties and all citizens."[9] A number of our witnesses agreed that the EU held a central role in the Balkans. Lord Ashdown told us "that, for BiH, Europe not only becomes the instrument to drive the reform process forward; it also becomes the destination."[10] The small size of the Balkan states also makes their accession more manageable and less contentious than that of Turkey.

8. Concerns exist, however, that the accession of the Balkan states may shift the delicate balance between small and large states in the EU. Responding to this fear, the prominent Balkans commentator and former BBC correspondent in the region, Misha Glenny, said: "On that issue, on the issue of representation in the EU, believe you me you could do a deal with the region very, very quickly, for them to say, 'Hell's teeth, we will have one Commissioner every five years; we do not care. What we want is structure and cohesion first.'"[11]

9. One other shadow looming over the road to accession is the memory of the EU's failure to fulfil its potential during the conflict in Bosnia in the 1990s. Dr Anastasakis, the head of the Programme on South East Europe at the European Studies Centre at St Antony's College, Oxford, made clear the challenges ahead. He said: "This is the real test area for the European Union because it is engaged in many ways in the Western Balkan region. It is engaged in military terms. It is engaged in reconstruction efforts, in co-operation and reconciliation efforts, and also in transition. This is the major difference with central and eastern European countries, and this is also the major innovation for the European Union."[12] However, Kai Eide described some policy failures by the EU. He told us: "I do believe that some more imagination needs to be produced and that a more robust and constant EU engagement is required to bring Kosovo forward…The longer we wait with regard to doing something more vigorous the greater the burden will be along the road that we will all have to carry. I would appeal strongly for a more robust, less ad-hocish and less sporadic engagement."[13] In short, the EU must not grow complacent about its role in the region.

10. We conclude that the accession of the states of the Western Balkans to the European Union is most desirable and in the interests of all parties, provided that they meet all the criteria for membership. We recommend that the Government continue its work to bring the region into the EU and engage fully with the other member states to ensure their support for the prospective members in the Western Balkans.

The Stability and Association process (SAp)

11. The EU tackles the Western Balkans through its Stability and Association process (SAp). The SAp's main aim is to equip the Balkan states with the "means to maintain stable democracies; to ensure that the rule of law prevails; and to sustain open, prosperous economies based on European practices and standards."[14] The process has evolved to include a range of mechanisms facilitating closer integration, such as political co-operation, support for institution building, and trade measures.[15] Once the EU deems the SAp completed, the state in question signs a Stability and Association Agreement (SAA), an accord tailored for each country which paves the way for eventual EU accession. The SAp operates in two main phases; first, the process of moving towards a SAA, which involves instituting a free trade area and adopting reforms that fulfil EU standards; second, the negotiation and implementation of a SAA, with the purpose of achieving a form of union between the state in question and the EU. Effective implementation of a SAA is a prerequisite of progress towards EU accession.[16]

12. Some of our witnesses had doubts about the effectiveness of the SAp. Dr Whyte told us: "The SAp process works well where you have a well-functioning state on the other end to work with, and that clearly applies to Croatia and I would argue that most of the time it applies to Macedonia as well. It has run into real problems in Albania, due really to the failure and unwillingness of the Albanian government to undertake the necessary reforms. I think it has had a clearly beneficial effect in Bosnia along with the rest of the international efforts. It has certainly increased the credibility of the Bosnian state. But I think it has shown no tangible results in the case of Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo because that state is not really a state, it is three different states, which happen to be bunched together internationally, and the SAp has almost had a negative effect rather than a positive effect over the last three or four years there."[17] Dr Anastasakis added that the SAp needs to adjust "to the specificities and the needs of the particular countries."[18]

13. At present the Western Balkan states receive funding through the EU's Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stability (CARDS), from a budget which for 2000-2006 is 4.65 billion euro. CARDS has four main aims:

  • reconstruction, democratic stabilisation, reconciliation and the return of refugees;
  • institutional and legislative development, including harmonisation with European Union norms and approaches, to underpin democracy and the rule of law, human rights, civil society and the media, and the operation of a free market economy;
  • sustainable economic and social development, including structural reforms;
  • promotion of closer relations and regional cooperation among countries and between them, the EU and the candidate countries of central Europe.[19]

14. Commenting on the CARDS system, Dr Whyte told us: "I think there is a lack of an economic development aspect to the SAp, indeed to the EU's whole approach to the region."[20] Dr Anastasakis agreed that there "definitely has to be money directed towards developmental aims but there is a problem, I understand, from the regional side in that where the money can be spent on projects is always decided by the European Union. There is very little consultation with local actors, those really involved in that business."[21]

15. However, the European Commission is in the process of changing its administration of the SAp, since the Western Balkans portfolio moved from the Directorate for External Affairs to the Directorate for Enlargement on 1 November 2004. The Commission plans to introduce an Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA), which will divide states into accession states, such as Croatia, or pre-accession states, such as Serbia and Albania. The IPA will take a specific approach to each state and may thus meet the above criticisms. Commenting on the symbolism of the change, the memorandum from the United Kingdom's representation to the EU stated that this sends "a further signal of the region's ultimate EU perspective and should allow the lessons of the latest enlargement to be applied more systematically to the Western Balkans."[22]

16. We conclude that the Stability and Association Process (SAp) took too constrained an approach to the Western Balkans, and welcome the Instrument for pre-Accession Assistance (IPA). We recommend that the Government set out in its response to this Report how the IPA will work. We also recommend that the Government urge the EU not to take a parsimonious approach towards the Western Balkans at the risk of creating a relatively impoverished region within its borders, and to consult widely with local governmental and non-governmental organisations in the disbursement of pre-accession funds in line with CARDS aims.


17. The EU's predominance in the Western Balkans is a recent phenomenon, in comparison to the overwhelming US presence over the last decade. The USA played the leading role in ending the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the military action against Yugoslavia in 1999. Since the Kosovo War, Washington has maintained a strong engagement with the region, through its small force in Bosnia and much larger military contingent housed in Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo — "one of the largest American bases in the world ever built since the Vietnam War".[23] The USA has also taken a strong stance on the question of compliance with the Hague Tribunal, as its decision to withhold $10 million in aid for Serbia in January 2005 illustrates.[24]

18. Outlining American policy in the Balkans in 2001, President George Bush said: "Our vision of Europe must also include the Balkans…The burdens—and benefits—of satisfying that yearning will naturally fall most heavily on Europe, itself. That is why I welcome Europe's commitment to play a leading role in the stabilization of Southeastern Europe…But I know that America's role is important, and we will meet our obligations. We went into the Balkans together, and we will come out together."[25] However, his words predate the attacks of 11 September 2001, which shifted the focus of US foreign policy towards the threat of global terrorism.

19. Our witnesses outlined their views of US policy in the Balkans as of November 2004. Dr Whyte told us: "For the United States, [the Balkans] can only ever be a security issue with a certain nod towards economic stabilisation, but that too is in the security context."[26] Dr Anastasakis agreed, and pointed to the likelihood of a decreasing role for the US in the Balkans. He said: "The region is very significant for the United States in terms of terrorism and also as a transit route for terrorist traffic and organised crime. In that sense, I think it is of strategic significance for the United States…[but] the EU is now becoming the major force in terms of a police mission and military mission."[27]

20. However, Professor Pettifer, of the UK Defence Academy's Conflict Studies Research Centre, played down the role of the EU and suggested the US role in the Balkans was still paramount, and that within the US establishment, the Pentagon's perspective dominates.[28] The USA's willingness to provide troops for the stabilisation of the Balkans and the prospect of its overwhelming power is certainly a crucial factor in the stability of the region, but the EU now leads the military effort in Bosnia and Herzegovina and controls the economic pillar of the international administration in Kosovo. For this reason, stability in the Balkans depends on harmonious co-operation between the two. Dr Anastasakis said that co-operation so far was effective despite a history of US scepticism about EU military aspirations. He told us: "In the Western Balkan area, the way the United States and the EU have worked together has proved that they can do it without any major problems."[29]

21. The importance of co-operation confers responsibility on the United Kingdom, given its role as a close ally of the United States, a member of the European Union, a member of the six nation Contact Group and a military power in the region.[30] These ties place the United Kingdom in the crucial position of bridge builder between the EU and USA, the contribution and effectiveness of which will have a major impact on stability in the region. With this in mind, the United Kingdom must encourage co-operation between Paris and Washington despite continued differences over the Iraq conflict.

22. We conclude that the presence of the United States of America in the Western Balkans is a crucial ingredient for stability, especially in the fight against terrorism and organised crime. We recommend that the Government encourage the USA to maintain its prominent role in the Balkans, notwithstanding the many other challenges Washington faces. We also welcome the European Union's determination to shoulder a greater part of the burden, and conclude that co-operation between the EU and USA is essential for the maintenance of peace in the region; the United Kingdom has a special role to play in bringing US, EU and NATO personnel together at all levels.

The Russian Federation

23. Russian historical links with the Balkans are extensive, and the Russian Federation has played a major role in developments in the Balkans since 1991; for instance, Russia is a member of the Contact Group which brokered an end to the war in 1999 and maintains a strong interest in the region's stability. However, we heard informally that Moscow views the problems in the region through a 'Belgrade prism', because of its historical and cultural links with the Orthodox Serbs, and that the Russians have some difficulties with the notion of Kosovo's independence because of the potential implications in the secessionist republic of Chechnya. Moscow is also unwilling to support aspects of the stabilisation efforts in the Balkans and has withdrawn its military commitment from the region; currently, the Russian Federation has no plans to reintroduce forces.

24. Misha Glenny outlined his view of Russian interests in the Balkans. He told us: "I do not think Russia has political ambitions in south-eastern Europe. It has considerable economic ambitions in the region...But in political terms Russia's only interest in the Balkans that I can identify is Kosovo, and that pretty much as a bargaining chip which it uses in a similar but less intense fashion as it does the regime in Transdniestria."[31] Commenting on Russia's position on Kosovo, Kai Eide told us that "there has been more of a reluctance on the Russian side with regard to moving into the process of the future status of Kosovo than there has been among the others. There has been more insistence that all [human rights] standards have to be fully implemented before we can go into that. There has been a different approach taken by the Russians than by the other members of the Security Council."[32]

25. The Russian approach to the breakaway Transdniestra region of Moldova has frozen hopes of any resolution to that conflict and we have serious concerns about a similar policy in the Balkans, where speed is of the essence.[33] Such an approach is least acceptable in Kosovo, where the economic pressures of high unemployment and lack of international investment are keenly felt and might precipitate further conflict.

26. We conclude that the Russian Federation has strong interests in the Western Balkans, in particular in the region's stability, and that the Government should encourage Moscow to contribute to the stabilisation and development of the region. However, we have concerns that the Russian Federation might approach the problem of Kosovo in an obstructionist manner. We recommend that the Government engage closely with its EU partners to ensure a positive and proactive role for Moscow in the Balkans, and stress the importance of stability and progress in the region to all interested parties, including the Russian Federation.


27. Croatia, in particular, is a key partner in establishing stability in the Western Balkans. Misha Glenny told us that his assessment is that "there are two regional motors of growth and stability in the entire region, which are Croatia and Serbia, and that the dispute between Serbia and Croatia in the early '90s was what provoked war. In order to reintroduce stability you have to guarantee the stability of those two territories."[34]

28. Croatia has made positive steps towards internal political transformation and international rapprochement since the war's close, and is no longer a source of instability in the region; for instance, Lord Ashdown explained how the Croatian Nationalist Party (HDZ) had moved from the aggressive nationalist ideology of the Tudjman years.[35] The visit by Croatia's Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader, to Belgrade in November 2004 is a most welcome signal of rapprochement—the first visit by a Croatian premier since Yugoslavia imploded in 1991—and a demonstration of the depth of reform in Croatia and its commitment to assistance in the region.[36]

29. Croatia also has much experience of dealing with the EU and implementing the complex reforms necessary for accession to offer its neighbours. We heard informally that many of the states which acceded in May 2004, such as Hungary and Poland, are helping Croatia's accession process, and that Croatia has offered support to Macedonia's bid for membership. These efforts are most welcome, and the linguistic and cultural affinity between Croatia and its southern neighbours is a helpful asset for the construction of stability in the Western Balkans, as is the example set by the internal transformation of the HDZ.

30. However, Croatia has failed to comply fully with the terms of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Carle del Ponte told the United Nations Security Council on 23 November 2004: "In the course of this spring, Croatia has apparently stepped up its efforts to locate and arrest Gotovina. However, doubts may be raised concerning the efficiency of these measures, or even their seriousness, as they have not produced any concrete results so far…there are strong indications that Gotovina, whose public image as a national hero is not denied by anyone, has enjoyed, and continues to benefit from a well-organised support network, including within state structures."[37] This sets a bad example for other western Balkan states, which the Minister described as "unacceptable."[38]

31. We conclude that Croatia has an important role in guiding other Western Balkan states on the path to the EU, and that such support will help Croatia's accession process as well as helping its neighbours. However, we also conclude that Croatia has yet to comply fully with the Hague Tribunal, and we recommend that the United Kingdom make clear to Croatia that insufficient effort to secure the arrest of Gotovina will retard its EU ambitions.

The Neighbouring States

32. Other neighbours have a key role to play in the development of the region. Austria has an important economic role in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while Greece is a key investor in Macedonia despite political differences over the use of Macedonia's constitutional name. Italy has a strong stake in stability and decriminalisation in Montenegro and the Balkan littoral generally, and the planned accession of Romania and Bulgaria should encourage those states to support democratisation in Serbia, alongside current members like Hungary and Slovenia. Albania also has a strong interest in the resolution of the Kosovo problem. The United Kingdom and its EU partners have a role in persuading states with a stake in the region to nurture civil society, to support infrastructural integration, to invest in the economic growth of the region, and above all to play a supportive role in the reconstruction and development of the Western Balkans.

33. Regional co-operation is essential to effective development in the Western Balkans. Dr Eyal, Director of Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told us: "In many respects, the division of the Balkans into a 'northern' part, which includes Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Croatia, either members of NATO or the EU or shortly to become members in both organisations, and the 'western' Balkans, composed of countries which remain in suspended animation, is an artificial one. The boundaries will have to be cleared up pretty quickly, if Europe is not to end up with a clutch of poor, 'failed' states on its eastern boundaries."[39]

34. Examining regional efforts at co-operation, the FCO wrote in its memorandum: "Inter-regional co-operation in the Western Balkans requires further development. For example, the countries could work together to create a genuinely free trade area. Currently the Western Balkans, an area of less than a quarter million square kilometres, has 6 bilateral free trade agreements, with another 14 in the pipeline, but no regional agreement. The impact of a single free trade area on the lives of individual citizens would be immense, as would visa free travel. Currently, the countries of the Western Balkans place restrictions on the movement of people. The FCO aims to encourage intra-regional co-operation by funding regional projects from our various budget programmes."[40]

35. Outlining an example of one successful regional agreement, the FCO wrote: "The Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe was adopted, at the EU's initiative, at the Cologne European Council in June 1999. The Stability Pact is a mechanism for co-ordinating political reforms and reconstruction in the countries of South East Europe. It complements the SAp and the work of regional bodies such as the South East Europe Co-operation Process (SEECP)."[41] To date, the Stability Pact has funded a number of infrastructural projects such as the rebuilding of the Danube bridge in Novi Sad in the Vojvodina.

36. However, Dr Eyal was gloomy about the prospects of regional co-operation. He wrote: "Economic co-operation between the countries of the region is in its infancy, and it is difficult to foresee the mechanism by which it could be improved. In many respects, the countries of the region are competitors, rather than complementary economic partners."[42] Dr Whyte also drew attention to the necessity of improved infrastructure, pointing out that the construction of a new highway to Sarajevo would improve Bosnia's economic integration with the region.[43]

37. We conclude that many of their neighbours have much to offer the weaker states of the Western Balkans. We recommend that the Government emphasise to pre-accession states such as Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania that effective and constructive engagement with their neighbours will reap dividends in the future and win friends in Brussels. We also conclude that regional co-operation is essential to the effective development of the Western Balkans. We recommend that the Government urge neighbouring states such as Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary and Romania to increase regional co-operation, and support infrastructural schemes in the Balkans.


38. One regional body which plays an enormous role in the Western Balkans is the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE focuses on the establishment of human rights standards, free media, good governance and democracy throughout the region, although the EU's growing presence is reducing the importance of the OSCE. The UK delegation to the OSCE told us that among its responsibilities the OSCE "runs the police training school [in Kosovo], and has already trained over 6000 police men and women. The OSCE also played a major role in establishing the multi-ethnic police force in South Serbia. The missions…have a role in the return and resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons."[44]

39. The FCO also told us that the OSCE has a number of advantages in dealing with the region, which include the presence of the Russians at its meetings, its comprehensive vision of security, its expertise in election monitoring, and its extensive field presence. The OSCE also focuses on the question of trafficking in the region.[45] However, we heard informally that the Russian Federation's unwillingness to accept the OSCE's presence in its 'near abroad'—focusing in particular on the OSCE's election monitoring missions in the wake of the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine—has caused some paralysis within the organisation which could limit its effectiveness in the Balkans. For instance, Moscow has blocked the approval of the OSCE's budget for 2005 as part of a campaign to curtail the organisation's traditional focus on human rights, democracy and governance; one casualty has been the OSCE border monitoring mission in Georgia which watches the Chechen border. The OSCE's extensive field presence in the Balkans will suffer from a lack of funds unless diplomats can resolve the current impasse.

40. We conclude that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) makes a most valuable contribution to the establishment of democratic values in the Western Balkans. However, we have concerns that the Russian Federation might undermine its work, and we recommend that the Government work closely with its EU and US partners to make clear to Moscow that the OSCE plays an essential role in stabilising the Balkans.

6   European Union, General Affairs and External Relations Council, Western Balkans - Council Conclusions, 16 June 2003 Back

7   Ev 59 Back

8   Ev 131 Back

9   Ev 129 Back

10   Ev 28 Back

11   Ev 55 Back

12   Ev 42 Back

13   Ev 110 Back

14   EC DG External Relations, The European Union and the Western Balkans: Building the future together Back

15   Ibid. Back

16   EC DG External Relations, The Stabilisation and Association process, Back

17   Ev 42 Back

18   Ibid. Back

19   EC DG External Relations, The Stabilisation and Association process, Back

20   Ev 43 Back

21   Ibid. Back

22   Ev 121 Back

23   Ev 26 Back

24   "Serbia pays high price for losing US aid", IWPR, 21 January 2005  Back

25   US Department of State, George Bush, Address to faculty of Warsaw University, 15 June 2001, Back

26   Ev 41 Back

27   Ibid. Back

28   Ev 25 Back

29   Ev 42 Back

30   The Contact Group comprises Italy, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United States, and the United Kingdom Back

31   Ev 49 Back

32   Ev 111 Back

33   The Russians maintain a large military base in Transdniestra, and although they have not recognised the breakaway region they provide logistical and financial support for what has become a lawless exporter of people, arms and drugs. Back

34   Ev 50 Back

35   Ev 31 Back

36   "EU focus: Sanader's Belgrade overture aimed at impressing Brussels", Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 19 November 2004,  Back

37   International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Address by Carla del Ponte, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, to the United Nations Security Council, 23 November 2004, Back

38   Ev 82 Back

39   Ev 4 Back

40   Ev 60 Back

41   Ibid. Back

42   Ev 4 Back

43   Ev 43 Back

44   Ev 122 Back

45   Ev 123 Back

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Prepared 23 February 2005