West Balkans soon ready for EU – at least part of it

October 24, 2009

As Lisbon Treaty seems to come into force also the enlargement process in the Western Balkans got new boost. On 14 October 2009 the Commission adopted its annual strategy document explaining its policy on EU enlargement.The document includes also a summary of the progress made over the last twelve months by each candidate and potential candidate: Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, as well as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo (under UN resolution 1244).

In addition of strategy paper the Commission published the 2009 progress reports of each of the candidate and potential candidates. Below is a summary related to the countries of Western Balkans. My source has been European Commission Enlargement pages from where one can find the strategy, country reports and also other key documents related to enlargement.

EC’s country conclusions

  • Croatia has made good progress in meeting the benchmarks set in the accession negotiations and negotiations have now formally resumed following the political agreement between Slovenia and Croatia over handling the border issue. Croatia will need to pursue its reform efforts, in particular on the judiciary and public administration, the fight against and organised crime, and minority rights. If Croatia meets all outstanding benchmarks in time, the accession negotiations could be concluded next year.
  • Montenegro applied for EU membership in December 2008 and the Commission is currently preparing an Opinion as requested by the Council. Parliamentary elections met almost all international standards. Strengthening administrative capacity and consolidating the rule of law remain major challenges.
  • Albania applied for EU membership in April. The Commission stands ready to prepare its Opinion, once invited to do so by the Council. Parliamentary elections met most international standards. Strengthening the rule of law and ensuring the proper functioning of State institutions remain major challenges.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina urgently needs to speed up key reforms. The country’s European future requires a shared vision on the overall direction of the country by its leadership, the political will to meet European integration requirements and to meet the conditions which have been set for the closure of the OHR.
  • The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has made important progress and has substantially addressed the key accession partnership priorities. The Commission considers that the country sufficiently fulfils the political criteria set by the Copenhagen European Council in 1993 and the Stabilisation and Association Process and therefore has decided to recommend the opening of accession negotiations.
  • Serbia has demonstrated its commitment to moving closer to the EU by building up a track record in implementing the provisions of the Interim Agreement with the EU and by undertaking key reforms. In light of sustained cooperation with ICTY, the Commission considers that the Interim Agreement should now be implemented by the EU. Serbia needs to demonstrate a more constructive attitude on issues related to Kosovo.
  • In Kosovo, stability has been maintained but remains fragile. The EU’s rule of law mission EULEX has been deployed throughout Kosovo and is fully operational. Kosovo faces major challenges, including ensuring the rule of law, the fight against corruption and organised crime, the strengthening of administrative capacity, and the protection of the Serb and other minorities.

Some latest developments

On 23rd October 2009 European Commission representative gave (FYR)Macedonia six weeks and a day to Macedonia, till the EU Council meets, to promote its name talks with Greece and secure a date for the start of EU accession talks. The change in power in Greece can create some positive atmosphere for the name negotiations.

According to the 2009 European Commission progress report, judicial reform in Albania remains in its early stages, with little progress made thereon in the last year. Now the General Prosecutor’s Office seeks the authorisation to investigate a judge on corruption-related charges. A constitutional amendment that would restrict the immunity of judges is needed for implementation of this task.

The second round of crucial high-level talks, aimed at ending Bosnia-Herzegovina’s convoluted political impasse, ended on Wednesday without concrete results.The talks on last week ended after only a couple of hours, with all Bosnian Serb and Croat leaders and some Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) representatives rejecting some or all of the proffered package.

During President Medvedev’s state visit in Serbia a number of bilateral agreements were signed, including one to establish a joint company (South Stream Serbia) to plan, build, and manage the section of the South Stream gas pipeline, which will pass through Serbia. A second deal saw the foundation of the Banatski Dvor UGS Joint Venture, which will construct and manage a gas storage facility in northern Serbia.

The International Court of Justice, ICJ, has set the agenda for a hearing on Kosovo’s independence declaration. More over background in my article “UN is sending Kosovo case to ICJ

Albania’s press freedom was recently reconfirmed as the worst in the Balkans, by the Reporters Without Borders’ Freedom of the Press Index. Albania is ranked 88 of 179 countries polled for the index, squeezed in between the United Arab Emirates and Senegal. Macedonia ranks 34, Bosnia 39, Romania 50, Serbia 62, Bulgaria 68, Kosovo 75, Croatia 77 and Montenegro 78. A wave of bombings against the political and media spheres during 2008 tarnished the image of Croatia within the EU at a time when the country was hoping to join the bloc as quickly as possible.

On a positive note, citizens of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia (excluding residents of Kosovo) are on course to benefit from eventual visa liberalization to Schengen countries from 1 January 2010. The Commission plans to table proposals by the middle of next year to extend this right to Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, provided they meet the necessary conditions. A dialogue with Kosovo, with the perspective of visa liberalization once key conditions have been met, has also been proposed.

EU also has free-trade arrangements in place with the rest of the Western Balkans – the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia.

Bottom line

When Ireland said yes to Lisbon and President Klaus is tired alone to resist the Treaty the way seems open for Croatia, (FYR) Macedonia to join EU. Albania, Montenegro and Serbia can follow soon if they want. Bosnia-Herzegovina is collapsing as state (more e.g. In my article “Bosnia collapsing“)

Kosovo may get some progress if EU is ready to squander more billions of euros for its capacity building efforts, but my overall view about Kosovo is quite pessimistic (More e.g in my article “Kosovo update”)

One question is what is the added value for part of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia to be a EU member state; most important pragmatic benefits can be achieved through visa-liberalization and free-trade agreements.

Technically EU can absorb the whole region as well Iceland in near future. The big question is Turkey as the opinions against its membership is still relatively high. However during next few years Turkey will come an energy through implementation of Blue Stream pipeline from Russia and South Stream, possible implementation of Nabucco and planned import of gas from Iraq and Iran. So in energy game Turkey will have some aces; if not membership EU must offer very attractive “third way” solution for Turkey, why not do the same with some states of the Western Balkans if needed.

The situation can change fast if the main players change. E.g next Summer the Conservatives may enter into power in UK and even without delayed referendum over Lisbon Treaty the approach towards EU enlargement and other EU issues can differ from today’s situation.

2009 progress reports of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, (FYR) Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo province can be found as pdf from my Document library.

Snow White Elections in Macedonia

March 23, 2009

George Ivanov from the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party maintains a lead according to early results from (FYRO) Macedonia’s (later Macedonia) Presidential election although he is likely to face a run-off vote in two weeks time; then his challenger will be Ljubomir Frckoski from the Social Democrats. Macedonia could have a “Snow White Election”, the EU ambassador to the country, Erwan Fouere said optimistically during his monitoring to the ballot posts. Besides fair play in elections the statement can also describe the fact that the snow prevented some 12,000 people in certain mountainous villages to vote as the balloting did not start in 103 out of the nearly 3000 ballot stations. (Source BalkanInsight)

Background 2008

The election was being closely monitored in the West which has previously warned the country that it could face years of delay in its bid to join the European Union if there is a repeat of last year’s election-related violence.

Last year’s general elections were marred with violence and fraud in the ethnic Albanian populated areas of the country. Violence erupted between rival ethnic Albanian parties during the vote leaving one person dead and several wounded. This sparked negative reports from election monitors and criticism from the west, including the EU.

Campaign 2009

For their part, the seven presidential candidates have focused their campaigns on the country’s strategic goals, EU and NATO membership, and on the need to solve the burning so-called name row with Greece that jeopardizes these goals. The economy and ethnic relations between the Macedonian majority and the Albanian minority were also high on the agenda.

Macedonia’s Helsinki Committee had earlier skeptical view about this year elections. The Committee cites the latest OSCE report on the election campaign that notes that pressure put on administration workers to vote for the ruling VMRO DPMNE party, badly organised local election bodies, and unbalanced media coverage do not bode well for a good assessment of the elections. (Source BalkanInsight)


After several weeks of campaigning during which the main candidates have largely failed to inspire voters. A bit over 50 % of eligible voters bothered to go vote.

Out of 98 percent of the counted votes, the results are following:

  • George Ivanov (Conservative VMRO DPMNE) is the frontrunner with about 340,000 votes or 35 percent,
  • Ljubomir Frckoski from the main opposition the Social Democrats has won 198,000 votes or just over 20 percent,
  • The independent candidate Ljube Boskoski, acquitted at The Hague tribunal of war crimes during the 2001 Macedonia conflict last year and Imer Selmani from the New Democracy party both tallied around 145,000 votes or about 15 percent each,
  • Agron Buxhaku from the ruling Democratic Union for Integration, DUI got 73,000 votes or just under 7.5 percent,
  • Nano Ruzin from the Liberal Democrats won around 39,000 votes or about 4 percent, and
  • Mirushe Hoxha from the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA got about 30,000 votes or around 3 percent.

Earlier the State Election Commission announced Sunday’s presidential and mayoral elections went without major incident and met democratic norms.

(Source BalkanInsight)

Wishful thinking

Before elections there was an assumption that if the country pulls off a smooth election it can hope for a swift removal of EU visas put up against travelling Macedonian citizens and a date for the start of its EU accession talks this autumn.

Macedonia has been a EU candidate state since 2005 and last year the EC said Skopje is still not ready for the start of accession talks largely because the violence and fraud allegations that marred the 2008 general election.

So when elections now went quite well is Macedonia closer EU? Unfortunately not – not because of country itself but due the stagnation of EU for the sake of Lisbon Treaty. Before Irish yes the Treaty is not coming to force and EU can not “de facto” absorb new members.

When situation is frozen Croatia and Macedonia must wait, Turkey probably has already realized that it will not in near future come an EU member, Montenegro’s candidate application is put in archives and others are calculating their options. From the other hand this kind of time-out can be seen also positive since it gives time to think possible new cooperation methods as alternative for full membership.

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Freedom in Balkans

December 9, 2008

Political freedom is usually described as the absence of interference with the sovereignty of an individual by the use of coercion or aggression.  Often word “Liberty” – the condition in which an individual has the ability to act according to his or her own will –  has been connected to freedom and social anarchists see negative and positive liberty as complementary concepts of freedom.

Freedom House is an independent nongovernmental organization based in USA that supports the expansion of freedom in the world. Freedom House’s definition of freedom is derived in large measure from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The Declaration includes freedom of religion, expression, and assembly; freedom from torture; and the right to take part in the government of his or her country.

With these limitations – US organisation and definition of freedom – the survey anyway tells something also about Balkans.

Global perspective

The Freedom in the World survey provides an annual evaluation of the state of global freedom as experienced by individuals. The survey measures freedom—the opportunity to act spontaneously in a variety of fields outside the control of the government according to two broad categories:

  • Political rights enable people to participate freely in the political process, including the right to vote freely for distinct alternatives in legitimate elections, compete for public office, join political parties and organizations, and elect representatives who have a decisive impact on public policies and are accountable to the electorate.
  • Civil liberties allow for the freedoms of expression and belief, associational and organizational rights, rule of law, and personal autonomy without interference from the state.

The Center for Religious Freedom was a division of Freedom House for 11 years. In December 2006, the Center moved to the Hudson Institute so data over this aspect will be found from there.  (http://www.hudson.org)

As an outcome of Freedom House’s survey is e.g. country reports, tables and charts and especially “Map of Freedom” which also can act as interactive tool to reach data collected.

Map of Freedom by Freedom House


The results of last survey vary quite a lot by country.  Below I collected a table of results in Balkans from Freedom House’s 2008 publication adding to last column the score from religious survey 2007 of Hudson Institute.  Each pair of political rights and civil liberties ratings is averaged to determine an overall status of “Free,” “Partly Free,” or “Not Free.” Those whose ratings average 1.0 to 2.5 are considered Free, 3.0 to 5.0 Partly Free, and 5.5 to 7.0 Not Free.

Country Status Political Rights Civil Liberties Religious freedom
Kosovo (province under UNSC 1244) Not free




Albania Partly free




Macedonia (FRY) Partly free




Bosnia-Herzegovina Partly free




Montenegro Partly free




Serbia Free




Romania Free




Croatia Free




Bulgaria Free




Slovenia Free




Freedom of the Press in Balkans

A free press plays a key role in sustaining and monitoring a healthy democracy, as well as in contributing to greater accountability, good government, and economic development. Freedom House has been monitoring threats to media independence and their annual survey tracks trends in global press freedom and draws attention to countries or regions where such freedom is under threat.

I collected data related to Balkans from the 2008 edition of Freedom of the Press published by Freedom House and the situation is as follows (Rank among 194 countries):

Country Rating Rank
Slovenia 23 46
Bulgaria 33 76
Croatia 36 78
Montenegro 38 81
Serbia 39 84
Romania 44 94
Bosnia-Herzegovina 45 97
Macedonia (FRY) 47 100
Albania 50 105
Kosovo na na

The country status related freedom of press was in Slovenia free, all the others got status partly free.

Some conclusions

The Freedom House’s ratings are maybe giving too good picture about freedom in anglo-american-West European countries.  Despite there undoubtedly is wide formal freedom e.g. in media the business “laws” are guiding the mainstream media to uncritical approach so that profits and advertisement incomes are not in danger.

The freedom ratings with political rights, civil liberties, religious and press freedom were not so bad in Balkans especially against the turbulent background of modern history.  Naturally there is challenges ahead and work to do.  The only peculiarity was the result of Kosovo which is ranked as ‘not free’ and received scores the same as Sudan, Chad and Egypt in terms of political rights and civil liberties. Odd because UNMIK was send Kosovo to introduce democratic standards and human rights in its protectorate.  If the result is this so the mission must have failed disastrously and lessons learned should fast to be applied in future missions of crisis management.

Cantonisation – a middle course for separatist movements

September 17, 2008

This year trend in international politics seems to be different separatist movements around the globe. Kosovo’s unilateral proclamation of independence from Serbia last February played a key role in these developments, which we already have seen in Bolivia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia and probably many more waiting to spark. This trend has big potential, because it is estimated that there is about five thousand ethnic groups on globe. I think now it is time and worth to speculate some variations between independent state and occupied territory.

Last week the ethnic Albanian movement ANDI led by Nevzat Haliti made demand that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia rename itself into “Macedonia-Ilirida” in order to reflect ethnic Albanian demands for a formation of their own entity inside the country. The outcome of this has been described also dual-state, which is one more definition of some sort of self-governance.

Definition problem

Most common aim of secessionist movements is state. The general definition of state is, that it is a political association with effective sovereignty over a geographic area and representing a population. The states can be nation states, sub-national or multinational states. In Max Weber’s definition, state is that organization that “claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”. Status as a state often depends in part on being recognized by a number of other states as having internal and external sovereignty over it.

States wishing to retain territorial integrity in opposition to ethnic or indigenous demands for self-determination or independence sometimes offer or impose limited territorial autonomy. Some +30 states have about 70 territorial autonomies with definitions of autonomous region or island, republic, principality, territorial autonomous unit, Kingdom, autonomous republic, special autonomous province, territorial collectivity, autonomous Monastic state etc. There exist also about 40 non-incorporated territorial autonomies.


A canton is an administrative division of a country, e.g., a region or state. The most internationally well-known cantons – the Swiss cantons – are theoretically partially sovereign states. Because cantons are generally relatively small in terms of area and population this kind of administrative form could be he best middle way between independent states and occupied territory or tribe-/village-level societies. Of course there is exceptions like Kurdistan which covers area nearly as big as France and has population over 25 million and could claim to be a sovereign state as well than any other one.

Canton or region is a quite good unit in relation to self-governance combining both possibility to local participatory democracy and global activities. Also it is called EU as Union of Regions. Today’s EU Aid does not necessary need state as partner or facilitator. Aid and cooperation can be e.g.

  • Between regions according their living conditions like high mountain regions or periphery regions
  • Between sectors like culture, health etc
  • Between field of activities like agriculture
  • Between private and public institutions like in science
  • Between NGOs of special interest

Canton can have many variations suitable to present day’s complex situations. It can be nation or sub-national unit as well than part of multinational state. If circumstances favor, it can also cover a region with many ethnic groups.

Question about size?

How to estimate the size needed for canton? One aspect is to define population which can carry on some basic services. In Finland there is ongoing reorganization of municipalities because some smaller units can not anymore give social and health services to their inhabitants. From central level is guidelines that for delivering one kind of health services +20.000 inhabitants is needed, for more specialized health services +100.000 is needed. To apply this kind of approach one should first define the level and content of services in particular region and these needs can vary in different part of world.

Bottom line

From point of local self-governance a canton with widest possible autonomy could maybe be solution to manage different separatist activities at international level. The role of state would reduce itself only as one cooperation forum and maybe guarantor of basic minority/civil rights. The most important aspect anyway is that this kind of arrangements can offer a peaceful way out from current and coming conflicts.


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Balkan future ?

July 18, 2008

One may have noticed that I have had here as well in some discussion forums quite negative or critical comments about today´s Balkan events and politics. In one forum a question was made if I believe Balkan region to have any future. Yes I do.

Western Balkans will have a future and at least following scenarios can be seen:

  • “Laizez faire” /frozen conflict -model: West does not revise its politics, East keeps positions. EU will “supervise Kosovo some 20 years backed with Nato, north part lives its life integrated to Serbia – same case with Bosnia. Maybe the most realistic and easy (no one needs to do anything) scenario.
  • Deal scenario: US revises its foreign policy after elections and withdraws recognizing of Kosovo, real talks are starting and ending to bitter compromise (e.g. partitioning Kosovo, applying Hong Kong model …), Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia are independently concentrating more to economical/social questions instead of quarreling borders. Pragmatic result, needs hard work from all stakeholders.
  • Crisis scenario: West try to implement “independent” Kosova in the whole territory forcing puppet authority to north pat of province, Serbia sees it occupied territory, Gaza model of conflict. About this scenario the only winner would be organized crime and I really can not think that so stupid policy would attract anyone else or Great Powers who have other real problems.
  • Diversity model: All Balkan countries have their own development paths – some countries are going to join fast to EU (Croatia), some are going to do it later (Macedonia, Albania), some are maybe looking alliances from other directions (Serbia), Kosovo will be international protectorate also next decade; Bosnia will totter between breakup, federation/confederation, state, protectorate depending inner politics and exterior influences.

So I indeed think that western Balkan states will have good future (most my probable scenarios were positive side – especially if one compares it to past decades. My forecast is that in Balkans conflicts will be in smaller scale than before, tolerance and economy are growing and people are starting think more future than past.

Western Balkans and European perspective

June 23, 2008

All non-EU states in western Balkans have been sad to have European perspective e.g. that sooner or later BiH, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Macedonia, Albania and even Kosovo – inside or outside Serbia – would be future EU members. I can not avoid some questions, like

  • Can EU any more absorb new members and simultaneously keep alive some its ideas?
  • Are European perspective and EU membership the same?
  • Are benefits from joining to EU bigger or less than being outside it?
  • Is there any alternative strategic alliances to EU?

Today´s EU

EU was meant to be an association of independent regions that pursue their own policies and serve the interests of their people. Today´s EU has Parliament sitting and travelling between Strassbourg and Brussels with zero power and authority. Instead Commission, their army of bureaucrats, lobbyists from different interest groups are keeping EU as their playground. Due the high risk of corruption EU tries to limit damages with Auditors (In Brussels I once heard that there is more auditors in EU than people who are really implementing some practical task). The Parliament´s Puppet democracy is showed by interpreting all speeches/documents to all EU languages and verse, sad that no one is listening or reading them.

EU is today already so big that democracy and efficiency are in constant conflict. When Ireland last week said no to Lisbon Treaty in democratic referendum it same time paralysed EU structure. If EU is enlarging even more the decision making mechanisms and maybe the tasks of EU should be reconstructed again – it should find the core functions again and cut off extra branches, trim the budget and administration. Today EU member states are paying more or less their taxpayers money to common budget and are receiving more or less back through some 500 different EU programmes. When common bureaucracy, Puppet democracy and corruption are taking increasing share so on the field one sees less money and actions. The bottom line is that EU´s ability to absorb enlargement is questionable and even if it could come bigger what´s the idea to join to it.

European perspective vs. EU membership

One common custom is to equate European perspective and EU membership. I totally oppose this equivalence. Almost half of Europe´s territory and 30 % population is not EU members. Does anyone believe, hat e.g. Switzerland and Norway have less European perspective than member-states. Western Europe shows only one part of wholeness of our continent, eastern Europe and also Byzantium are part of continent´s history. Perspective can point East as well than West.

EU has brought many benefits to its citizens – visa-/passport-free traveling and healthy competition over borders, more market economy instead protectionism, comprehensive multidimensional standards numbers of public and private fields. EU has also offered a forum to manage conflicts with peaceful manner.

However some of these benefits can be applied also without EU. For instance one can travel from Finland or Sweden (EU) more easy to Norway (non-EU) than from Hungary to Romania (both EU). Some standards outside EU can be better than worse than inside but one should remember that those standards are decided closer in one state and are not some compromise made in Brussels.

Being outside EU does not mean to be outside EU financing. EU has e.g. its border programmes with neighbors to finance transnational projects and also some inside programmes are open to non member-states. Economically inside EU each member has different case if they have surplus or deficit and how much with their EU budget, the same is valid future new members.

With this article I have highlighted some negative aspects with EU. In case of my home-country Finland I must confess that I have enjoined about many positive things EU has brought to my country, many projects and wider view which could be impossible without membership. Critical questions I have arised to break simple black and white picture which is familiar in simplified mainstream media in western Balkans. The question is too important to let it only to join or not level.

Some options for strategic alliances

So big question is if there is any alternative strategy to joining EU? I would like to see following options to taken into consideration in all non-member-states of western Balkans :

  • Strategic linkages to the BRIC countries – Brazil , Russia , India , China. These countries are representing rising economical, cultural and political powers (and markets) in three continent while Western Europe and USA are more and more going towards stagnation or moderate development at most.
  • Association Agreement without goal to come member-state could be good alternative and realistic also. Because EU can not absorb Turkey this kind of arrangement can be the most used alternative to enlargement by membership. Every country can negotiate their own association and cooperation agreement and highlight those topics which are important each individual state. Cooperation can be very wide with most of EU member benefits, of course also EU gains its share about cooperation e.g. with logistics through trans-European transport (roads, railways, energy, telecommunication …) corridors.
  • European ‘Free Port Zone’ – models could be e.g. Kaliningrad, Singapore, Luxemburg, San Marino. This position can make non-member state popular with people who want to live in Europe but do not like high taxes and with businesses that engage in international manufacturing, trade and commerce.

EU is not miraculous power which brings economic and other development with membership status. More important is what people are doing in each western Balkan state. They can develop their societies with or without EU depending individual needs and priorities. If they can develop good country for themselves (not because EU) it can be good country also for outsiders and e.g. diaspora can start to invest back to their old home-country like one can see now for instance in Russia.

Elections in FRYMacedonia

June 3, 2008

Elections in FRYMacedonia showed from my point of view two factors typical in Balkans: 1st how fragile is peace orchesterated by outsiders and 2nd what kind of “powderkek” Balkan area is. Outsiders have coerced peace also in Bosnia and Kosovo which both have continuening problems. However divorce between Serbia and Montenegro was peaceful, because both states acted according their agreement and honored the result of referendum. This kind of approach – outsiders out, locals in – could bring more peace also to other frozen conflicts.

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