Europe “whole and free” only with the Balkans

Plenary session Week 27 2017 in Strasbourg - EP building and Flags

BERLIN – The EU Strategy on the Western Balkans has been carefully analysed in Washington, and the interlocutors talking to the Deutsche Welle note that the reduced involvement of the United States in the region does not mean a loss of interest, and that Brussels and the White House share the same interest in the Balkans.

“The only way for a transition in the Balkans to be successful is that it is backed by Europe and America,” Jonathan Katz, senior adviser to the German Marshall Fund in Washington, told DW.

It is significant that even today, almost three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakdown of communism, one is talking about “transition”.

But the US position towards the Balkans is becoming interesting in the light of current events – in the light of the new US administration headed by Donald Tramp and the adoption of the EU’s Strategy for the Western Balkans.

Katz says the US engagement is no longer at the level that would ensure that the Americans are a true partner to the European Union for the countries of the region to undergo a transition in the right direction.

But only together, our interlocutor believes, the United States and the EU can oppose not only “Russian propaganda” and interference in European affairs, including elections, but also the increasing economic presence of Russia, especially in the energy sector of the Western Balkans.

“At the same time, the EU accession process is very technical and bureaucratic, and, therefore, there is a much more effective incentive for progress when combined with full US support,” says Sarah Bedenbaugh of the Atlantic Council, one of the three authors of the study on the new American strategy in the Balkans.

In the light of a new, European strategy for the Western Balkans, US observers say that a visible step forward needs to be made.

Because, according to them, time is no longer an ally of all Balkan aspirants to the EU: some feel tired, and Euroscepticism is increasingly present, writes DW.

“One of the more frequent constraints we hear through complaints from the region is the lack of a clear perspective on the timeframes, which makes it difficult for the countries to remain in the reform agenda in the accession process,” Bedenbaugh said. It is, therefore, important to have an “action plan with deadlines”.

Americans believe that “key moment” will be the Summit of Western Balkan countries in Bulgaria in the coming months, the first one to be attended by all EU members since the 2003 meeting in Thessaloniki.

“When I speak with European officials, they openly point out that they not only want American engagement, but also American leadership in the Balkans,” added Jonathan Katz.

But he points out that, due to the position of President Donald Trump towards Russia, a “confusion is created, and this can send a wrong signal to countries under the influence of Russian (propaganda) aggression.”

Those informed in Washington argue that Tramp is not directly involved in the creation of US policy towards the Balkans. It is encouraging, they say, that the president is “surrounded by excellent people” who are well-aware of this part of Southeast Europe.

There is, however, a Gordian knot that can decelerate Europe to be “whole and free” – the vision of the continent as was presented by then-American President George Bush in 1989 in Mainz, referring to the still divided Germany.

This Gordian knot they referred to in Washington is still located in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Immediately after the publication of the European strategy for the Western Balkans, EU representative Lars Gunnar Wigemark spoke in Sarajevo, stating that BiH at some point would not be able to continue towards the European Union if the Dayton Constitution does not conform to EU standards.

In Washington, however, they remind that there is no magic wand to change Dayton, knowing how difficult it is to reach an internal and international consensus on the matter.

“Those who are most involved in the creation of Dayton will have to find an adequate formula for these reforms,” ​​says Katz, adding that it is obvious that the situation around BiH remains full of challenges, but it is clear that no country should be left aside in the process of joining the EU. ”

Obviously, others agree that, regardless the pace at which Montenegro and Serbia are now heading towards EU membership, the region’s progress will not be complete without BiH, and then Kosovo.

“The US should show more political and diplomatic efforts to solve a difficult challenge that hinders progress and pulls BiH back,” Katz adds.