Momentum for the Balkans?

Just having returned from the Rose-Roth Seminar of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly I am left with a mixed, but overall rather gloomy impression of the Western Balkans. As often these seminars are a competition between the glass is half full and the glass is half empty analysts. While its hard to give a verdict who won, what clearly emerged from the discussion is that the US is not really engaged in the region anymore, irrespective of Hillary Clinton’s visit last week. Similarly, nobody was there to suggest that the EU wasn’t paralysed and without a strategy at the Western Balkans at the moment. In particular striking was the sense enlargement was no longer being pursued with any vigour by the EU (or rather its member states). One participant suggested that some member states are willing to risk delaying membership of the region in favor of not taking the risk of communicating the enlargement to their electorate. Thus, maybe the worst effect of the economic crisis is less the economic impact on the region, but rather the weakening stomach in the Western half of Europe to live up to its promise to the region.

What left a more optimistic impression is the clearly new atmosphere in regional relations, especially between Serbia and Croatia. Similarly, the tone of reps. from Kosovo and Serbia on relations was very promising, emphasizing the need for technical talks and improving lives of inhabitants of Kosovo.

The fact that the meeting could include MPs from the Kosovo assembly (including a Serb MP), and a Serb “Progressive” and former VJ general and a current German  general with KFOR without much controversy is telling. Maybe the passivity of the EU and the US throws the spotlight in the region. It might be that momentum for reform, the title of the seminar, might be more likely to originate from with the Western Balkans than from outside.

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