Preservation of Yugoslavia a problem
On 26 April, the International Crisis Group (ICG), a leading think-tank based in Brussels, presented a report for sustainable stability in the Balkans. The ICG openly criticised the intentions of the international community to preserve the remains of the Yugoslav Federation.
The report, named "After Milošević: A Practical Agenda for Lasting Balkans Peace," calls for the autonomy of Kosovo and Montenegro from Serbia, but insists on keeping Bosnia-Herzegovina a single entity. In this way, it is claimed, the local particularities of the area are taken into consideration and long-term stability is more likely.
On the other hand, the EU and USA, the so-called international community, are not eager to grant Montenegro autonomy from Serbia. They fear that secessionist movements in the Balkans are an inherently risky activity endangering the status quo—even on an international scale.
Overall, what both the ICG and other members of the diplomatic community seem to agree on, in one way or another, is the need for a long-term and dedicated involvement in the affairs of the region. However, it is still not clear whose interests will matter most when decision-making takes place.
Optimistic growth forecasts for candidates
On 25 April, the European Commission published its spring economic forecasts for the candidate countries for 2001-2002. The report predicts increasing average growth in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) from four per cent in 2000 and 2001 to 4.3 per cent in 2002.
For the first time since 1989, all ten candidate states from the former Eastern European bloc recorded positive growth. In addition, economic developments in most states were better than projected in the rather optimistic forecast of the Commission last autumn.
The only concern in the forecast was with the economic progress of Turkey in light of its recent turmoil. Romania is expected to perform moderately, with 1.8 per cent growth in 2001. The highest booms this year are expected in Estonia (5.9 per cent), Latvia (5.5 per cent) and Bulgaria (5.2 per cent).
Despite the fact that things look good on the outside, most of the candidate states are still struggling with high unemployment rates which are not likely to yield good social support for the painful reforms ahead. The average unemployment rate last year was 12.4 per cent and it is expected to decrease to 12.2 per cent this year.
Unemployment is likely to be worst in Slovakia (18.4 per cent), Bulgaria (17.5 per cent), Poland (16.5 per cent) and Estonia (13.7 per cent). Hungary and Slovenia will enjoy the lowest unemployment, with 6.2 per cent and seven per cent respectively. So far, the only way the EU is reacting to this "domestic" occurrence is by demanding restricted freedom of movement for East European workers after accession.
EU agreement with Yugoslavia underway
Last week, an EU delegation visited Belgrade to pave the way for talks on the Stabilisation and Association Agreements. The agreements will provide trade concessions for Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo together with the promise of EU membership.
Earlier in April, Macedonia became the only country from the western Balkans so far to sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreements. Talks with Croatia are underway and expected to finish by the end of the year. This leaves only Albania and Bosnia-Hercegovina to initiate negotiations on the agreement.
The Stabilisation and Association Agreements represent the international community's liberal approach to integration and security in the region. So far, nationalism has been the only liberal idea that has found massive support in the Balkans.
Aid to Slovakia suspended
The European Commission has suspended its pre-accession aid to Slovakia after an investigation on the possible misuse of the funds was launched.
Roland Toth, head of the Slovak Department of Foreign Assistance, responsible for handling EU aid on a national level, has been dismissed. The Slovak authorities launched a criminal investigation for fraud in relation to the activities of Dr Toth. At the same time, the national press claimed that he had awarded EU contracts (under the Phare, SAPARD and ISPA programmes) to companies in which he had a stake. Dr Toth is also suspected of having a major stake in a company that collected payments for the translation of EU documents into Slovak.
The European Commission has no control over the money it channels to national or local authorities under the programmes for pre-accession financial assistance. Still, it has also launched its own investigation into the use of aid in Slovakia.
Serb delegation meets with NATO leaders
A press conference was held after a meeting between a delegation of political leaders representing the ethnic communities of Kosovo, Hans Haekkerup, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Kosovo, and the North Atlantic Council Lord Robertson gave yet another of those speeches in which he welcomed the increased security of Kosovo as well as reiterating NATO's firm disapproval of the level of violence in the region.
The Secretary General also appealed to the senior leaders present at the meeting to try and persuade their constituents to stop all acts of violence.
The meeting followed the visit of Serb government officials to NATO headquarters on 25 April. The Serb delegation consisted of the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Nebojša Čović, the Foreign Minister Goran Svilanović and the Commander of the Joint Security Forces, General Ninoslav Krstić.
The visit included a Serbian presentation on the steps adopted by the government to reduce the degree of tension between ethnic communities. In response, Lord Robertson stressed the usual: the importance of dialogue and "trust-building" measures gaining support amongst the local population. Dr Čović reiterated his opinion.
Robertson given Business Week Award
Lord Robertson was awarded the "Business Week Award 2001" for his achievements in the field of global communications at the Business Week Convention (23 to 29 April), organised by the Economic Faculty Association, Rotterdam.
He emphasized in his speech that NATO was about communication, saying that being adaptive to the fast changes in communication was the only effective way for the alliance to construct its agenda adequately. Is this, by any chance, equivalent to the only real way to the survival of NATO?
Ivana Gogova, and Branimira Radoslavova,
27 April 2001
NATO Official Homepage
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