The meeting started on Friday, 20 April and is expected to last for two days. The fifteen EU ministers for economic affairs, finance ministers and heads of central banks initiated a dialogue with their counterparts from the thirteen candidate countries. The discussions will focus on macroeconomic and financial stability in the context of enlargement.
Earlier that week, deputy finance ministers from the Group of Seven met in London to discuss a further loan for the ailing Turkish economy. Turkey had asked for approximately USD 10 to 12 billion to support its economic rescue programme, but it became obvious that the majority of G7 countries were rather reserved in meeting this request. Germany, Turkey's biggest creditor and trading partner, was most willing to lend the money.
And while financial assistance for Turkey is not on the agenda of the meeting in Malmö, the presence of a Turkish delegation is a clear sign that the topic will be touched upon in one way or another, senior officials said.
So far, Turkey has received the support of the IMF on its latest National Programme, which provides new extensive legislation. One of the aims of the programme is to minimise government control of the economy. Analysts also point out that the Turkish Parliament has already passed five of the 15 laws pertaining to the reorganization of the economy.
G7 ministers are to meet this week in Washington. Most probably, the issue of aid to Turkey will again feature at the discussion table. However, it has already been made clear, even by Germany, that any financial assistance will have to be backed by promises of political as well as economic reform. The hottest spots on the agenda for political changes in Turkey remain the impasse over Cyprus and allowing the EU to boost its strategic defence capabilities in the area. Nevertheless, these are issues over which Turkey is most reticent to comply.
Croatia on the road to EU membership
EU membership has lately emerged as Croatia's most important strategic objective. And while the country acknowledges the painful reforms through which it has to go beforehand, Vladimir Drobnjak, Croatia's Ambassador to the EU, has pointed to 2006 as the year in which membership negotiations could be closed.
At the Nice Summit last December, the EU officially opened its door to five more countries in the Western Balkans: Albania, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Macedonia. The EU also introduced a new form of cooperation agreements for this region, the so-called Stabilisation and Association Agreements, whose objective is to foster co-operation in the region, liberalise trade with the EU and prepare the countries for consequent integration in the EU structures.
Initially, Macedonia seemed to stand the best chances of joining the EU. It was the first country to sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreement on 9 April this year. Macedonia's relative advantage could however be dwindling in light of the recent military and political turbulence in the country.
Naturally, Croatia has come to consider compliance with the EU demands for economic and political reforms a way of overcoming its difficult past. The problem of post-war reconstruction (mainly in the economic and legislative areas) and that of dealing with its refugees seem much easier to handle in a favourable international climate.
Moreover, Croatia clearly realizes its "natural" advantage over most of the other west Balkan states and is insisting on, as well as committing itself to, a fast track negotiation process and implementation of all the necessary domestic reforms. Thus, the country is quick to state, even at such an early stage of the EU race, its preference for a "regatta principle" of accession, where each country is considered individually.
Croatia is currently negotiating the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, expected to be initialled under the Swedish Presidency and signed under the Belgian one in the second half of this year.
KFOR peacekeeper killed in Kosovo
A Russian KFOR soldier was killed while on duty on 11 April in an attack which is said to have been deliberate. In a special statement Lord Robertson, NATO Secretary General, condemned the incident, saying that he was "appalled at the shooting." Earlier, he had told Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov that the attack was considered to be "an attack against all."
Meanwhile, following a decision of the North Atlantic Council (NATO's supreme decision-making body), the second to last of the five security zones forming the Ground Safety Zone (GSZ) on the Serbia-Kosovo border was handed over to the Yugoslav Army on 14 April.
Changing the place and not the problem
NATO peacekeepers in the Balkans experienced yet another test on 6 April: this time not in Kosovo or Macedonia, but in the Croatian areas of Bosnia-Hercegovina, a country whose borders were drawn by the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement. Thus, another leftover from the international community's involvement in the Balkans (in this case Bosnia's four-year war of independence) became evident in the first week of April.
The peacekeepers faced increasing tension between the international community and Croatian nationalists which culminated in Croatian rioting. The clashes arose after Hercegovacka Banka had been occupied by a NATO-led SFOR peacekeeping force following the orders of Wolfgang Petritsch, the international community's high representative for the civilian aspects of the peace agreement.
The violence took place in the headquarters of the bank in west Mostar, the "heartland of hardline Bosnian Croat nationalism," as reported by the Financial Times. It was caused by the ordered appointment of a new provisional administrator coming after the bank's alleged role in sponsoring Bosnian Croats and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) in their attempts to break away from the Dayton settlement.
NATO has also increased its presence at the Bosnian military barracks because of a possible Croatian revolt there as well.
Lord Robertson visits Poland
Lord Robertson, NATO Secretary General, was on a two-day visit to Warsaw, where he met with the Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and other government officials.
He did not surprise anyone by emphasizing, in a speech at Warsaw University, the need for Europe to overcome its economic divisions existing between East and West together with the long-lasting instability in the Balkans.
Ivana Gogova and Branimira Radoslavova,
20 April 2001
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