The EU Response
Somewhat paradoxically, two decades after the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement on B-H and 16 years after the Kumanovo Agreement and UN resolution 1244 on Kosovo,18 these two democratically unstable countries continue to have a semi-protectorate status (initially and officially by the UN, nowadays effectively by the EU in coordination with the United States and NATO), while political life in Macedonia remains exposed to the less direct but strong supervision of the EU and United States. While the presence of various international civilian and military missions for more than 20 years in B-H and for over 16 years in Kosovo have provided a significant amount of support in securing peace and building state institutions (particularly an independent judicial sector and professional police force - see Chap. 7 in this volume) in these two former federal units of former Yugoslavia, neither of them can yet be defined as a viable or functional state.
Although the EU, which has gradually taken on the effective supervision of this country in place of the UN,19 had begun very early on to condition its assistance to B-H with political requirements regarding the building of more efficient government apparatus, many of these requirements never had a real chance to be adopted, let alone the implementation by the B-H political parties. This is particularly related to EU demands for changes to the national legislature that would grant greater executive powers to the institutions of central government on the account of the governments of two entities that required (as stated in the Dayton Agreement and in the national constitution based on that agreement) a consensual majority of political representatives of all three major ethnic groups. Not only have such demands been continuously and strongly opposed by Bosnian Serb (and to a large extent by Bosnian Croat) politicians, they have also (as stated earlier) been continuously used by the political representatives of all three ethnic groups as an excuse for their not doing or incorrectly doing things which they objectively could have accomplished (Knaus and Cox 2004). In this way, this conditioned assistance, which was offered under the formula of ‘progress in association and integration with the EU for progress in the political centralisation of the country’,20 was more of an additional hindrance than a form of constructive assistance that would help the state as a whole consolidate democratic institutions and cope with economic challenges and necessary reforms.
As in B-H, the relatively large presence of the international (particularly EU) factor in Kosovo since 1999 has not yet resulted in transforming this former Serbian province into a functioning state, while the level of its democratisation is by far the worst in the region. However, some progress in relations with Serbia achieved in the last couple of years within the so- called Belgrade-Pristina dialogue for the normalisation of relations between the two parties, held under EU supervision (see European Union 2016) gives at least a modest hope for Kosovo’s better future. This hope can hardly be expected with current political developments in either B-H or Macedonia, despite much better achieved levels of democratisation (see Table 2.2) and current socio-economic development of the latter two.
Although it is not so intensively exposed to EU monitoring and control as B-H and Kosovo, Macedonia is another former Yugoslav republic with a contested statehood status. It continues to be hampered by the demands of its quite large Albanian ethnic minority (making up one quarter of the country’s total population) for further territorial (i.e. ethnic) decentralisation and the possible (con)federalisation of governmental power as well as problematic relations with neighbouring Greece and Bulgaria regarding the interpretation of the country’s history and the use of its very name and language. Moreover, the relations with these two neighbouring countries, who are also members of the EU, remain the only ‘official’ reason (or excuse) that has blocked any progress in this country’s accession to the EU for more than 10 years.
While not hesitating to send its missions and experts to assist the troubled Western Balkan states in building state institutions, or, as was the case with Macedonia, to send its highest representatives to assist in
(temporarily) resolving the political unrest that has resulted from the longstanding imbalances which Macedonia has been living with more or less from the time of the declaration of its independent statehood,21 the EU has resisted providing an option of a quicker accession pathway that could have helped these states to ‘clean their mess’ while progressing with the accession process (Grabbe et al. 2010). Instead of this, and in accordance with its tougher approach adopted in 2006, EU leaders have expected these troubled states in the meantime to follow the EU’s instructions (i.e. the additional Copenhagen-plus-plus-plus or SAP-plus-plus conditions - see the following sections) and solve their long-standing problems alone. The problem is that these long-standing problems have been primarily related to the very constitutional order of these states, on which interested Western Balkan nations and ethnic groups have sharply divided opinions. Therefore, the EU incentives for the (final) settlement should be properly balanced while being effective in order to please all the interested parties. However, this has often not been the case. With regard to the EU ‘incentive’ for the solution of the Greek-Macedonian dispute over Macedonia’s name, it can simply be said that there was no such incentive at all. Nevertheless, the EU did not hesitate in punishing the incompliance of the West Balkan parties with its (dis)incentives and de facto additional accession conditions by preventing the countries in question from advancing to the next step in the accession process.
When, for instance, the European Council rejected the recommendation of the Commission (based on its positive assessment of the country’s preparedness) to grant official candidate status to Serbia in December 2011, the reason for this was neither Serbia’s failure to meet any of the (tightened) Copenhagen accession conditions nor the SAP conditions (which were de facto the Copenhagen-plus conditions for the Western Balkan states) regarding cooperation on regional peace and stability defined in the late 1990s. Rather, the reason was Serbia’s unsatisfactory progress ‘in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue’ on issues which arose after the declaration of Kosovo’s independence in 2008 and Serbia’s rejection to recognise it (European Council 2011, point 13). Similarly, when the European Council decided to grant Serbia official candidate status 3 months later, the only reason for the change of the Council’s previous opinion was a positive report received in the meantime from the EU Council which stated that ‘Serbia has continued to show credible commitment and achieved further progress in moving forward with the implementation in good faith of agreements reached in the BelgradePristina dialogue’ (EU General Affairs Council 2012, p. 1). Hence, the above-elaborated slow progress of Serbia in opening accession negotiations once it got the status of an official candidate for EU membership in March 2012, and even after the negotiations were officially launched in January 2014, has not been determined by Serbia’s (weak) progress in post-communist reform (which by 2014 had definitely reached or even slightly overcome the level of Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia at the time they opened their accession negotiations in 2000 or 2005, respectively, see Table 2.2 and Petrovic and Smith 2013 for more details), but was exclusively a result of its progress ‘in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue’ (see also Poznatov 2015).
The main reason for the slow progress of Macedonia in the EU accession process is even more ‘external’ than Serbia’s and is almost bizarre, particularly after the Commission had recommended to the Council to open accession negotiations with Macedonia already in 2009. This reason has nothing to do with either Macedonia’s ability to meet the original or tightened Copenhagen accession conditions or the later defined SAP conditions. The main and, in fact, the only official reason Macedonia has now been waiting for more than a decade to open accession negotiations after it was recognised as an official candidate for EU membership in December 2005 [which is an absolute record in the history of all EU/ EC/EEC enlargements since the foundation of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957] is much more trivial and has been entirely determined by the Greek veto in the Council imposed due to concerns regarding Macedonia’s official name.22 Taking into account the deepness of the economic and financial crises which Greece has now been in for years and its dependence on international aid and assistance, it is hard to believe that serious engagement by the EU and its leading member states (possibly with the United States) in persuading these two parties to find a compromise could not have solved this ‘problem’ many years ago and opened a pathway for Macedonia’s much quicker EU accession. However, the EU’s inaction in this regard and its waiting for the Macedonian political leadership to find a way to meet these specific accession conditions more or less alone, by reaching a compromise solution with Greece,23 as well as the continuous postponement of the opening accession negotiations, have started to have serious negative repercussions on the socio-political stability of Macedonia. Years spent in limbo - neither here nor there regarding the country’s EU accession bid - have not only ‘encouraged’ Bulgaria to join Greece in opposing the Commission recommendation for opening accession negotiations with Macedonia since 201224 and negatively impacted the general enthusiasm in the country regarding its possible integration into the EU (and also NATO, as this attempt has also been vetoed by Greece). They have also contributed to the backsliding of some of the previous achieved reforms. As is partially visible through the worsening of the country’s democracy score (Table 2.2) it was also recognised in the latest Commission report on Macedonia (European Commission 2015b), that ‘the last decade’s reforms are being undermined by real and potential political interference in the work of the judiciary’ (p. 12). However, although the Commission is aware of such damaging effects of the continuous postponement of the opening of accession negotiations with Macedonia, it obviously cannot do much about it by itself. Hence, while it states in this report that ‘[t]he “name issue” with Greece needs to be resolved as a matter of urgency’ (p. 5), several pages later in the same document it also states that there have not been any formal talks held on the name issue between the two parties in the last year (p. 24).
While Kosovo’s progress in its relations with the EU could be assessed as satisfactory (although it has only very recently completed the first step on its long road to the EU membership by signing the SAA, see Table 2.3) taking into account its late start and very weak level of democratisation (and even more so the fact that its statehood status is still contested by five EU member states), according to the European Commission, the case of B-H is at a ‘standstill’ (European Commission 2015a). As shown in Table 2.3, after this country had signed its SAA with the EU in 2008, the EU member states needed 7 years to ratify it (which is another negative record in the history of all EU/EC/EEC enlargements held by one Western Balkan country). Moreover, during this period the EU leaders effectively did not until very recently ‘allow’ the Bosnian and Herzegovinian government to submit an official application for membership (subjecting it to the prior successful accomplishment of certain conditions) despite an existing consensus about this among the political leaders of all three core ethnic groups in the country.
While the official explanation of the Commission for such slow progress in EU accession of B-H is that this ‘country remains at a standstill in the European integration process ... [due to] a lack of collective political will on the part of the political leaders to address the reforms necessary for progress on the EU path’ (European Commission 2014, p. 24), the reasons for this ‘standstill’ can also be found in the very content of these reforms. As discussed earlier, most of these ‘necessary reforms’ are related to the proposed or demanded changes by the European Commission to the national legislature, including the constitution that should grant greater executive powers to the central/federal government in order to overcome ‘a complex institutional architecture [established by the Dayton Peace Treaty and the country’s constitution] that remains inefficient and which is subject to different interpretations’ (European Commission 2015a, p. 7). However, the basic problem is that the political elites of the Bosnian Serbs, and to a large extent of the Bosnian Croats, who are supported by a significant majority of their respective populations, consider this ‘complex and inefficient institutional architecture’ as the basic guarantor of their wellbeing and even survival as an ethnicity in B-H, and they are not ready to voluntarily accept any rebuilding of this ‘architecture’ (i.e. the centralisation of the country’s legislature), even if the price for it is the country’s very accession to the EU (Inserbia.info 2015; Balkaninside 2014).
Nevertheless, the European Commission and EU leaders have continued to insist on the necessity of these types of reforms to B-H’s legal and political institutions and repeatedly copy such demands in its documents, instead of trying to find some compromise formula which would enable the country to go ahead with the existing constitution and legislative order (possibly with some minor changes that could have been consensually agreed),25 as suggested by some scholars years ago (Grabbe et al. 2010; Petrovic 2009). While the official excuses for such a continuing status quo or ‘standstill’ in B-H’s (non)progress in EU accession, similarly as in the above-discussed ‘naming issue’ of Macedonia, are that compromise formulas either do not exist or are extremely difficult to be found, the above-discussed positive steps in Serbia’s and Kosovo’s accession process convincingly confirm that compromises can be reached even in areas where they initially seem to be genuinely impossible. Finding a formula which will encourage the Serbian and Kosovan governments to take part together in the Brussels talks,26 and even more so find a way to open the process of Kosovo’s accession to the EU despite the fact that five EU member states still do not recognise its statehood, seems to be a much greater challenge than finding acceptable compromises which would overcome current obstacles to B-H’s and Macedonia’s accession to the EU. The slightly changed focus of EU actions towards B-H, and the EU demands made of that country since 2014 towards addressing instead the ‘outstanding socio-economic challenges it faces’ (European
Commission 2015a, p. 4; see also EU Foreign Affairs Council 2014), which firstly led to the entering into force of B-H’s SAA with the EU on 1 June 2015 and then ‘allowed’ EU leaders to finally officially ‘allow’ B-H to submit its application for EU membership on 15 February 2016, is definitely a step (although a quite late one) forward. Only time will tell whether this will be followed by other similar EU actions that may help drag B-H, together with its Western Balkan neighbours, out of the ‘stalled accession’ in which it has stayed for some years.