On November 16, Ivan Vejvoda, vice-president for Programs at the German Marshall Fund of the United States spoke about Balkan enlargement in times of the Eurocrisis: what policies for the way forward? The debate brought together a group of policy experts including Janusz Onyszkiewicz, chairman of the Executive Board at the Euro-Atlantic Association, and H.E. Koviljka Spirić, the Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Poland.
Mr. Vejvoda stressed that there was a committed joint approach from the EU and US to the continuing process of Euroatlantic enlargement to the Western Balkans. This was symbolized by the recent visit of U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign and Security Policy Catherine Ashton to the region. The EU, backed by the US, is the key actor along with the countries concerned in furthering deep-seated democratic reforms, strengthening the rule of law and transparent governance. NATO enlargement continues with Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina at different stages of the process. Washington’s policy is thus to continue to strengthen democracy throughout the Balkans, with EU in the driving seat position.
According to Mr. Vejvoda, during Angela Merkel’s visit to Belgrade in August 2011, the German Chancellor brought a clear message: that in spite of EU crises, EU enlargement is still on the policy agenda, and that Germany strongly supports pro-enlargement EU initiatives in the Balkans provided countries continue to meet the Copenhagen criteria. Croatia, set to become the 28th member state of the EU in July 2013, will play a significant role in supporting the other Western Balkan states in their EU integration process, but these of course bear the principle burden of domestic reform processes. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo in their different ways have a longer road to travel but are also moving toward EU integration and need as the other countries in the region to address a variety of challenges such as corruption and the struggle against organized crime. Hopefully Macedonia and Greece can move toward resolving their dispute over the name issue, which would allow for further stabilization and consolidation of peace in the region. The earliest next possible enlargement in the Balkans would be 2020.
Serbia was hoping to get an announcement for a date to begin accession talks with the EU in the first half of 2013. To be able to achieve that goal Belgrade and Pristina continued the dialogue that began under the previous Belgrade government in March of 2011. Mr. Vejvoda also mentioned that the Balkans needed strong support and encouragement from the international community to further the enlargement process. Integrating the Balkans into Euroatlantic structures should be one of the top priorities for the transatlantic community and the EU as the issue remains unresolved.
When one of the experts asked what Poland can do in order to aid the expansion process, Mr. Vejvoda replied that Poland whose ties in the region were significant and whose position in the EU was growing could play an important role. Poland needs to have a more proactive approach, and provide technical and judicial reform assistance as this is one of the most significant challenges for each country.