In its original conception, the Stockholm Summit was to be the first annual review of the strategy set for economic and social policy at the Lisbon European Council last March. Consequently, the Swedish Presidency had outlined four areas of discussion, namely demographic change, issues of competitiveness (mainly with the US economy), promotion of research and innovation for new technologies and social cohesion achievable through full employment.
Naturally, concerns with the spread of FMD were the first issue to topple the scheduled agenda. Next came a last-minute invitation to Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski to brief EU leaders on the domestic management of the erupted crisis. He was joined by the EU's three most senior foreign policy representatives who had previously visited Skopje.
Another major guest to the Stockholm Summit was Russian President Vladimir Putin. The EU leaders were mainly to discuss the economic situation in Russia with him, although questions on Chechnya were also expected. In addition, President Putin is to hold close talks with his Macedonian colleague.
EU support for Macedonian government
On 22 of March, in an effort to ease the conflict via diplomacy, EU representatives visited Macedonia to show their support for the government and condemn what appear to be called Albanian extremists, separatists or even nationalists.
Some of the EU's most senior foreign policy representatives were sent to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Anna Lindh, Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, EU High Representative Javier Solana and External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten held talks with political leaders from all big parties and stressed the need for a continued political dialogue between the Albanian and Slav communities in Macedonia.
At the same time, the EU officials did not address the rebel groups directly. They emphasised that a political settlement of the conflict is still possible but only through Parliament and other established institutions, as opposed to negotiations on the ground.
"The message from the West is very clear—the extremist groups must lay down their weapons," said Anna Lindh.
Moreover, Chris Patten warned that EU aid to Kosovo might be stopped if local Albanian leaders did not publicly and unequivocally condemn the violence in Macedonia. Thus, he expressed the EU's growing concern that the silence of Kosovar Albanians shows tacit support for developments in Macedonia. The government insists that rebels are linked to groups in Kosovo aiming to break off northern Macedonia and form and independent ethnic Albanian state.
Meanwhile, it was also made clear the EU does not support the increased use of armed force by the Macedonian government: "Nobody should allow armed extremism to provoke armed extremists on the other side," Chris Patten stressed.
So far, the EU has spent EUR 17 billion in the Balkans over the past ten years. The European Agency for Reconstruction managing the EU's assistance programmes in Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro, has committed over EUR 680 million to Kosovo alone since 1999.
Nordic countries to join Schengen area
Five more countries are to become part of the Schengen area on 26 March.
The Schengen area is currently made up of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain and Portugal. By signing the Schengen agreement (14 June 1985) these countries have agreed to remove their common frontier controls and to introduce the freedom of movement within the thus outlined area.
Denmark, Finland and Sweden are to become fully-pledged members of the Schengen Agreement, while non-EU states Norway and Iceland are to be associated members. Thus, the Schengen area will consist of 15 countries.
Activism in NATO on paper and in words
In response to increasing violence on part of ethnic Albanians in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia [Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name], the North Atlantic Council (NAC) approved on 21 March a further package of measures intended to improve border security between Kosovo and Macedonia. A basic ingredient for a safer border was agreed to be a greater number of NATO troops in the area to prevent any flow of men and weaponry from Kosovo to Macedonia.
Also, active co-operation of the Alliance with other international organisations, such as the EU, the OSCE and the UN, was further endorsed. Specific talks had already been held between the Political and Security Committee of the EU and the NAC to discuss "more practical issues," including the deployment of twenty additional EU monitors.
Realpolitik still rules. With no immediate threat clearly identified, no immediate plans to send more troops have been definitely made either. France, Britain and the US all came up with statements that they had no intention to participate in NATO efforts to increase controlling of the Kosovo-Macedonian border.
The reasons behind the lack of enthusiasm might be various for the various countries. Thus Britain has argued that her contribution of 3300 troops to the KFOR peacekeeping force is "sensible" enough, according to UK chief of defence staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce. This view has been repeated by France, whose defence ministry spokesman stated KFOR had "a significant force" at its disposal, while the US reluctance has so far been simply a reflection of the new Republican administration's foreign policy.
According to an alliance's official, quoted in the Financial Times on Thursday, only one country has replied positively to NATO calls for additional troops.
Ivana Gogova and Branimira Radoslavova,
24 March 2001
NATO Official Homepage
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