Finishing the job in the Balkans
I spoke yesterday on “Finishing the Job in the Balkans” with Dutch Foreign Ministry Europe Director Daphne Bergsma, Carnegie Europe’s Stefan Lehne, European Council on Foreign Affairs Sofia office director Dimitar Bechev and former Netherlands/NATO/EU diplomat Pieter Feith at the Hague Institute for Global Justice, former Macedonia ambassador Nikola Dimitrov presiding. Here are the notes that I prepared for myself, though I confess I departed from them to comment a bit on the International Crisis Group’s final report on the Balkans, along the lines I published yesterday:
1. The organizers of this event did me a great favor in announcing it. They reminded me what I wrote with Soren Jessen-Petersen in the International Herald Tribune:
Only when all the region’s countries are irreversibly on a course toward the E.U. will we be able to celebrate. Likely no more than five more years are required. Until then, we need to keep the Balkans on track, ensuring that Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia remain on the train.
2. That was more than three years ago. Where are the Balkan laggards now?
3. Kosovo, I’m happy to say, is making real progress, due in part to Pieter Feith, who presided over the post-independence transition there. A vigorous EU initiative with German—and off-stage American—support is reintegrating its northern municipalities. It recently ran a decent election with Serb participation. If the government formation process has been slow, that is nothing unusual in parliamentary systems.
4. It is clear enough that Kosovo and Serbia will both someday become EU members if they keep on their current courses—and they’ve pledged not to slow each other down. There are still serious obstacles—perhaps the most important is non-recognition of Kosovo by five EU members—but there is time to overcome them.
5. Macedonia has made some progress, but its human rights situation has seen some backsliding. Sad to say it remains stalled in the EU accession process. The accursed name issue haunts Skopje and Athens.
6. I won’t say much about this: I am a notorious advocate of recognizing people and countries by the names they call themselves. I don’t think modern day Athens has an exclusive claim to the name “Macedonia,” which happens to be attached to 1257 places in the United States. Failure of the Europeans to unite and insist on a resolution of this issue is in my view shameful.
7. But the worse shame is Bosnia. There the US and Europe are at odds.
8. Let me start with the conventional wisdom, which I think is correct: Bosnia is stuck because its constitution ensconced ethnically nationalist political parties in positions of power from which only more nationalist parties are be able to remove them.
9. Dayton ended the war but failed to provide the country with a central governing structure capable of negotiating and implementing the requirements of NATO or European Union membership.
10. This didn’t matter much for the first decade after the war. There were lots of things that needed doing, and NATO and EU memberships were not much of an issue. Using virtually dictatorial powers, the international community force-marched Bosnia away from war.
11. By 2005/6 the constitutional problems were all too evident. A team of Americans tried to start fixing the constitutional problem by facilitating preparation by the Bosnian political parties of constitutional amendments later known as the April package.
12. The package clarified group, individual and minority rights, as well mechanisms for protecting the “vital national interests” of Bosnia’s constituent peoples. It also included reforms to strengthen the government and the powers of the prime minister, reduce the president’s duties, and streamline parliamentary procedures.
13. They failed in parliament to achieve the 2/3 majority required by two votes. The responsibility was clear: one political party that had participated fully in the negotiations blocked passage, in order to ensure its leader election to the presidency.
14. Whatever the faults of the April package, its passage would have opened the way for a different politics in Bosnia, one based more on economic and other interethnic issues and less on ethnic identity.
15. I confess I thought its defeat would only be temporary. I thought for sure the package would be reconsidered the next year and passed.
16. I failed to understand that the moment was not reproducible. Over the past eight years, the situation has deteriorated markedly. Only one constitutional amendment has passed during that period, under intense international pressure, to codify the status of the Brcko District in northeastern Bosnia.
17. Meanwhile, the country has fallen further and further behind most of its neighbors in the regatta for EU membership and now looks likely to end up in last place, with little hope of entering the EU before 2025 or even later.
18. Those who advocate that the High Representative responsible for interpretation of the Dayton agreements be removed and Bosnia’s problems be left to the EU accession process for resolution have little evidence that will work.
19. All the leverage of EU accession did not work to get Bosnians to align their constitution with a decision of the European Court of Human Rights. Nor has it accelerated the adaptation of Bosnia’s court system to European standards.
20. So what is to be done?
21. I think there is no substitute for the Bosnians solving their own problem. They could do worse than return to the April package, fix whatever problems existed in it, and get on with the process of constitutional revision.
22. I also think there are directions that would not be fruitful.
23. Some would like to see even greater group rights and ethnic separation than provided for in the Dayton agreements. That is not in my view a fruitful direction. Apart from its impact on Bosnia, it would have the undesirable effect of encouraging separatism in Ukraine and elsewhere.
24. Others would like to further weaken the central government or allow the entities to negotiate separately their entry into the EU. Those in my view are not fruitful directions.
25. There is a simple test for any proposal for reform in Bosnia: will it make the government in Sarajevo more functional? The corollary question is whether it will accelerate Bosnian entry into NATO and the EU.
26. The April package would have done that. I think it is time to return to it and get the difficult job of constitutional reform started.