Bulgarian FM discusses next steps for the Balkans
On January 4, GMF hosted Ivailo Kalfin, the foreign minister and deputy prime minister of the republic of Bulgaria, for a luncheon roundtable entitled "What Next for the Balkans." Minister Kalfin highlighted the pitfalls and opportunities of a fragile upcoming year for the Balkan region, drew from his experience as he emphasized stabilization and revitalization in the Balkans, and highlighted the region's relationship with both Europe and the United States. His ministry's priorities currently focus foremost on Kosovo and developments within the Western Balkans. Bulgaria also looks toward the development of the Black Sea region in line with the EU "Black Sea Synergy" program, which aims to develop cooperation within the Black Sea region itself and between the region and the EU.
Turning his focus to the Balkans, Kalfin began by saying that the crisis of the 1990s in the Balkans was stopped thanks to the efforts of the international community. The movement now in the region is to take ownership through regional cooperation. Previously, regional cooperation initiatives were seen as a substitute for European integration, something of a weak "second prize" alternative to joining Western organizations. Now, regional cooperation is seen as an important piece of and a step toward closer European integration. Trade and energy are two important examples where this approach is being utilized.
On Kosovo, the Minister summarized the situation by simply saying, "it's not easy." While Bulgaria was optimistic that the Troika process would result in a solution and did much to display EU-U.S. unity, the process failed. Echoing Wolfgang Ischinger, among others, Kalfin reiterated that there is no good solution, only "less bad" ones. Because of his country's proximity, the possibility of creating a frozen conflict is completely unsatisfactory and not a viable option. He called for positive commitment from the governments in both Serbia and Kosovo to work together for a solution.
While frustration with the situation is understandable, the trend of linking everything, such as EU integration, economic aid, among others, with resolution of the Kosovo situation is unhelpful. The best option is to ensure a unified and coordinated approach from the EU and United States, and to constantly stress Serbia's great potential in Europe if they take constructive steps down the European path. While some, notably Belgium and the Netherlands, oppose signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia until Radko Mladic is taken to The Hague, Bulgaria would like it signed now and believes that this would still be in keeping with ICTY requirements. Once the settlement of the Kosovo issue progresses, energy previously focused on that issue can be put toward securing Mladic, and thus the processes may possibly help resolve one another.
Some concerns that Kalfin highlighted included potential spillovers in neighboring countries, which the international community, "must clearly not allow." In order to maintain order in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kalfin mentioned the country must be advised by the EU and sign an SAA. The region needs further NATO expansion, and countries need preparation for and assistance during this process. Macedonia and Albania, particularly, should be helped to finalize the process in time for the April NATO Summit in Bucharest. Equally necessary is a solution to the long-standing naming dispute between Greece and Macedonia so that this issue cannot spiral any further. As the Minister stated, "FYROM is no name for a country." Finally, Kosovo must be helped because they have, "practically zero economy."
Kalfin spent some time discussing the EU expansion process and current fatigue from the Bulgarian perspective. The combined fear of the, "Polish plumber, Swiss plumber, or some other plumber that doesn't actually exist," and fears raised by Turkey's accession process were felt in both Romania and Bulgaria. The countries of the Western Balkans deserve a strong and fresh process, unhindered by these fears and lingering misgivings.