On one hand, here it seems like the idea of universal human rights has come to bite back its very own proselytisers. On the other hand, issues of illegal immigration have proven a very effective way to engage the voting population in domestic politics. As it turns out, for the time being it is this aspect of the problem, not the humanitarian one, that politicians find most useful to engage in.
The EU in action
As a result, European ministers gave their support for a UK-led plan, in co-operation with Italy, to crack down illegal immigration into the EU. In essence, the intention is to "try to plug the Balkans most porous borders." (BBC News)
Hence, in a new effort, the EU member states will try to force measures, both at home and on the Balkans, which will make access into Europe, or certain parts of it, more difficult.
The Balkans initiative will be sending 40 immigration officers into Bosnia and Croatia, the human-traffickers' favourite European outlets. There they will train local officials to recognise forged travel documents.
In addition, it has been agreed that a ministerial delegation headed by Swedish minister Maj-Inger Klingvall will be visiting Belgrade and Sarajevo in the near future to demand wider co-operation on the issue.
Meanwhile, it turned out to be impossible to decide on increasing the sentence for human-traffickers EU-wide. Obviously, the intention to scare off those making money out of illegal trafficking is there, but it seems like countries are still reluctant to engage in yet another EU commonality.
At the same time, it does not take long to start wondering whether the Balkans initiative will make it past the news headlines. For anyone with direct experience of the kind of migration involved here, the measures outlined in the Balkans initiative seem, quite frankly, rather short-sighted and ineffective.
It all sounds very well to send a few immigration officers to the Balkans in an act of benevolence and enlightened self-interest. However, good immigration control demands, among other things, a well-established and maintained infrastructure plus a firm socio-economic support for border-control officers (so as to avoid high occurrence of corruption, for example). Unsurprisingly enough, these conditions have not been voiced by any Western politician, because they are usually not on the good-publicity books.
Furthermore, underlying push-and-pull factors of displacement and migration are rarely addressed seriously in any such exercise of high politics. Not that politicians and their advisors were not aware of the conditions that sometimes even force people to leave their homes. These so-called push factors, however, are denied any relevance in the West (or by the intangible international community) at an increasingly alarming rate.
So, even if illegal trafficking through the Balkan corridor decreases, new routes will emerge, and politicians will again be out and about trying to secure their votes for the next elections.
NATO lets Serb forces deal with Albanian rebels
On 8 March, the North Atlantic Council (NAC), the supreme decision-making body of NATO, adopted definite measures for the increasing violence in south Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The measures taken include the authorisation of COMKFOR to allow the controlled and gradual return of FRY forces into the Ground Safety Zone (GSZ) with the intention to abolish the zone entirely at a later stage.
A decision of this kind will once again question NATO's credibility and adequacy in dealing with the problems in the Balkans. By allowing the Serbian army to regain control of the GSZ, the Alliance is almost sure to lose its impartial status and be held responsible for initiating a "provocation" that might forge a fresh conflict. The biggest risk is that the Yugoslav army has not yet been reformed, and although it might act wise, it does not preclude the Albanian guerrillas from turning it into a reason good enough for the mobilisation of efforts.
NATO is quite aware of the situation it finds itself in. "Any mistakes, be they nationalist-inspired, provocation, or just a stupid one, will put NATO's credibility on the line," a US official told the Financial Times.
Additional measures were also sought to enhance security along the Kosovo-Macedonian border, and countries were encouraged to provide bilateral and multilateral assistance to Macedonia. Most neighbouring countries had expressed deep concern over the growing violence in Macedonia.
Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov, speaking at a press conference at NATO HQ on Monday, said that Bulgaria (sharing border with Macedonia) was prepared to send troops to the area as part of an internationally recognised mission to reduce all destabilising tension in the region. Moreover, the Bulgarian Parliament approved in its session on Friday military assistance of the value of DEM 16 million (USD 7.3 million) to the Macedonian Ministry of the Interior, with the purpose of increasing the efficiency of the Macedonian army, explained Ivan Kostov, prime minister of Bulgaria.
The chain of decisions was inaugurated by the seizure of the Macedonian village of Tanushevci by Albanian extremists last week and the subsequent appeal of Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski for a stronger NATO presence along the border.
Yugoslav troops entered GSZ
Following the 8 March decision, Yugoslav troops entered the Ground Safety Zone (GSZ), a strip of territory in south Serbia bordering Kosovo. An agreement between NATO and the Yugoslav government was reached on 12 March. The agreement, illustrative of healing relations between the Alliance and Belgrade, came after the decision of the North Atlantic Council (NAC), the supreme policy formulation body of NATO, to go ahead with the gradual reduction of the GSZ.
The GSZ, however, still remains under the authority of the KFOR Commander, who can order the withdrawal of the Yugoslav army if necessary.
NATO to re-deploy troops to Kosovo-Macedonian border
NATO officials have urged member states to re-deploy their troops from Bosnia-Hercegovina to the Kosovo-Macedonian border with the aim of strengthening security in the area. There are several problems with this.
First, there is not much willingness for the move, especially after the US curtailed more than 700 of its forces in Bosnia, which had not been sent to Kosovo. "The real fear is that some of us see NATO becoming entrenched in Kosovo because we cannot tackle the root of the problem," said a NATO diplomat, quoted in the Financial Times on Thursday.
Second, the mandate given to KFOR Commander Carlo Cabigiosu does not allow his troops to enter Macedonia, nor does it provide him with a sufficient number of staff to train the Macedonian army efficiently.
Therefore, in the opinion of some NATO officials, Mr Cabigiosu should either be given more flexibility in operating his forces (rather than going through NATO's command in Naples) or KFOR must be aided by military police from the international community.
US troops curtailed despite deepening of Balkan crisis
The US is pulling out nearly 900 of its troops, contributing to SFOR (NATO's stabilisation force) in Bosnia, and their withdrawal had already begun last week.
This comes despite the recent assurances of President George W Bush to NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson, that the US would keep up its NATO obligations. According to The Guardian, many in the Bush administration favour a switch from a "presence mission" in Bosnia to a "deterrence mission," a smaller presence of, mainly, police, ready to move in when necessary.
Lord Robertson visits the US
Lord George Robertson was on a five-day visit to the north-east of the United States. He met with President Bush, officials from the new Administration, leading senators and congressmen. He also attended an informal meeting of the UN Security Council on 6 March.
In a speech at Capitol Hill entitled "Trans-Atlantic Relations-Overcoming New Challenges," he endorsed the deep and "fundamental" ties that link Europe and North America. Thus, American plans for a National Missile Defence (NMD) were said to be reconcilable with the European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI): the "National" Missile Defence would not be purely national but broader, and would incorporate Europe, while ESDI, "closely linked to NATO," should be interpreted as burden-sharing.
Ivana Gogova and Branimira Radoslavova,
16 March 2001
NATO Official Homepage
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