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Munich Security Conference: Western Balkans perspective

Munich Security Conference; Photo: MSC / Mueller

MUNICH – Munich Security Conference (MSC), one of the major global forums for the discussion of security policy, was hosted from February 17 to 19. The Conference hosted some of the most important decision-makers in the realm of international security policy. Around 500 leaders debated current situation and future challenges, mainly from the European perspective. The MSC published its annual report, which set the tone of the conference and framed discussion in current context  of rising jihadism, illiberalism and forced migrations. During this event, main focus was on put on relations between NATO partners, perceived as uncertain because of new US administration, and the expanding Russian influence abroad. Paradigm shift was expected, as the US President Donald Trump in his public appearances frequently lambasted key European allies over, as he perceives it, non-adequate defence spending.

United States Vice President Mike Pence stated that the U.S. would be unwavering in its commitment to the NATO, but demanded that Europe “step up” its military spending. Jens Stoltenberg stated that “the ability of our Alliance to fulfill all its tasks depends on all Allies contributing their fair share. Europeans cannot ask the United States to commit to Europe’s defence if they are not willing to commit more themselves”. This was expected and is in line with the current expectations for the future of NATO.

Federica Mogherini met with many presidents, prime ministers and numerous other officials on the margins of the conference. Almost all of the countries from the Balkans were also represented and held bilateral consultations. The main panel dedicated to the Western Balkans was named “Towards Further Euro-Atlantic Integration?” Participants were Gjorge Ivanov (President, Macedonia), Borut Pahor (President, Republic of Slovenia), Kolinda Grabar Kitarović; (President, Republic of Croatia), Milo Djukanović; (Prime Minister, Montenegro), Mustafa Isa (Prime Minister, Republic of Kosovo), Giorgi Kvirikashvili (Prime Minister, Georgia), and Sebastian Kurz (Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, Austria; Chairperson-in-Office 2017, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), who was the moderator of the panel. The introductory speech was held by George Soros, who briefly concluded that the EU has had enormous positive and transformative power in the region. “Because they are potential candidates, countries in the region had to catch up with democratic standards of the EU”, he stated. Mr. Soros as the main problem of the Western Balkans sees the local economies that lag behind and economic migrants from the region that leave their countries for better prospects in the EU countries, but declares that even this situation gradually changes.

Kolinda Grabar Kitarović started the formal part of the panel, with regret that “(we) still have a question mark at the end of the name of the panel”, since she sees the lessening of enthusiasm for further integration as one of the largest problems in the foreseeable future. She stated that she prefers to call accession process “consolidation, not integration”, since the Balkans are according to her inseparable part of Europe. “We face integration fatigue with accession weariness and disillusion of optimism”, she stated, but the intensification of enlargement process is at the same time the goal and the means for betterment. “Enlargement process is first and foremost political process, not technical process, and its main benefit is that it encourages reform and dialogue”, she concluded.

Borut Pahor also spoke from the perspective of the member country. “Western Balkans has many perspectives, but only one is peaceful perspective, Euro-Atlantic perspective”, he stated, as he sees no other sustainable perspective. According to him, enlargement process is enormous boon to the democratization and reconciliation process in the Western Balkans. “We have to further the enlargement process. The problem of migrations, affecting the region can happen through dialogue and agreements among countries in the Balkans, but also with EU member states”.

Milo Djukanović; started with a statement that “in the long period the Balkans has never been better places to live”. For him, it is also unquestionable that integration is the second name for stability for this region. He sees the main problem through centuries in this region to be of economic nature, and thinks that economic prosperity is the only answer to consolidation of Europe in the region. On the question of his Euro-Atlantic enthusiasm from Mr. Kurz, Djukanović; answered that we should be realistic and say that creation and nurture of European values is a pioneer work in the Balkans, but achievable in the short and the long run.

Ivanov, president of Macedonia, the country most affected by the migrant crisis, said that their example is how a “NATO candidate should not be treated”. He stated that even though Macedonia has had 24 rotations of troops in Afghanistan and 14 in Iraq, all of the positive feedback was “blocked”, and that lack of progress can be a deterrent for the popular support of Euro-Atlantic accession. He also stated that prejudices prevalent in Macedonia (regarding EU or NATO path) can only be solved by “biological means” i.e. “That new and young generations have better understanding of the seriousness of global situation than their parents”. Balkan countries have to answer for their own security dilemmas, including the migrant crisis, but the tradition of respect must be upheld by all sides, he concluded.

On the moderator’s question directed at leaders of the EU members on what can politicians do to alleviate the accession fatigue in the EU, Pahor said that the mistake would be to hasten the accession process, and that the wrong approach would be to say nonfactual dates to the candidate countries. His opinion is that all sides in the process should be realistic, but the pace must be maintained and dialogue ought not be stopped. If not, anti-EU political forces may come to power. To this question, Grabar Kitarović; said that this should be a “balancing act”, that Croatia experienced nearly all that, for instance, Macedonia experiences right now, and that we should send strong and clear messages to the candidates, that the progress should be communicated to the citizens. Djukanović; agreed with these conclusions, but stressed that all of the candidate countries “don’t hold illusions that this will be a short process”, that there is a lot of work to be done, and reiterated that first and foremost goal of Western Balkans should be achievement of EU standards, both economic and democratic. He also pointed out two “deficiencies” that the EU policies has towards the region: he sees the topic of the enlargement is discussed “shyly”, and that refugee crisis has shown lack of harmonization of political will inside the European Union.

Mr. Kurz then started the discussion on the European external borders, stating that the EU sees the solution to crisis more and more in Macedonia, not Greece. To this, Ivanov said that Macedonia in their current capacity cannot be solely responsible for the external borders. His stance is that problems of this caliber should be solved “as Europe, not as the European Union”. Borut Pahor considers that migrant flow should be UMANJEN, bat that this cannot happen without full coordination with all the neighboring countries. The discussion the shifted towards the resolution of the migrant crisis. All panelists have agreed on the need of holistic approach, but have also stated that the crisis can evolve to the existential crisis for EU, and that the answer is more, not less Europe.

The panel discussion could be watched here.


This article has been produced with the support of the Balkan Trust for Democracy. The content of this article and the opinions expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the portal European Western Balkans and in no way reflect the views and opinions of the Balkan Trust for Democracy nor the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

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