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World Review
 june 2005

International Commission on the Balkans

The Balkans in Europe’s Future

Foreword / Report of the International Commission on the Balkans

In 1996, the Aspen Institute Berlin and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published Unfinished Peace, the report of the International Commission on the Balkans which had been established at the initiative and with the support of European and American foundations in 1995. In his foreword to the report, former Prime Minister of Belgium Leo Tindemans, who served as Chairman of the Commission, stated that the objective of the Commission Members was "peace, a durable one, to pave the way to democracy, prosperity, well-being and a humane society". Dayton, which had been signed in November 1995, was only the point of departure as it "marked the end of the war, but only the beginning of the peace". The task for the international community at that point was to "help transform the proverbially chaotic, bloody and unpredictable Balkans of the past into a stable, peaceful and dependable Southeastern Europe of the future".

Two years before the establishment of the Commission, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace had republished the results of its 1913 Inquiry into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 (The Other Balkan Wars, 1993), the first International Commission on the Balkans presided over by the French Senator Baron d'Estournelles de Constant. Reports of atrocities occurring in the Balkans had prompted Nicholas Murray Butler, one of the Endowment's leaders and president of Columbia University to send a commission of six individuals for "an impartial and exhaustive examination" of the hostilities in the Balkans. It was much in the same spirit that the second Commission was created under the impression of the violent break-up of former Yugoslavia and the ferocity of the wars.

During its visits to the Balkan states during the second half of 1995 and the first half of 1996, the Commission was struck by the parallels between their impressions and the insights of the first Carnegie Commission of 1913/1914 as its haunting question was still pertinent: "Must we allow these Balkan wars to pass, without at least trying to draw some lessons from them, without knowing whether they have been a benefit or an evil, if they should begin again tomorrow and go on for ever extending?" The second Commission's report concludes "that turning a blind eye on the Balkans is no less a recipe for disaster at the end of the twentieth century than it was at its outset."

In the difficult context of the mid-nineties and the muddle of international efforts directed at the Balkans, Unfinished Peace was a remarkable document analyzing the causes of instability and conflict, assessing international responses and the lessons to be drawn, and suggesting a process and a framework for defusing and overcoming the conflicts in a broader regional context. We commend Leo Tindemans, Lloyd Cutler, Bronislaw Geremek, Lord Roper, Theo Sommer, Simone Veil and the late David Anderson for raising their voice in the cacophony of the time and offering their far-sighted analysis when the international community was still approaching the Balkans with a piecemeal approach. Unfortunately, the Commission's warnings were largely left unheard, and the international community had to undergo another painful lesson with the war in Kosovo and a more successful short-term conflict resolution in Macedonia before a more stable peace could be established.

Today, almost a century after the creation of the first International Commission on the Balkans, a third Commission on the Balkans is publishing its report. Different from the first two, this report is the first that is able to reach beyond war and peace. Almost ten years after the Dayton agreement, and almost five years after the fall of the Milosevic regime, the Western Balkans are a relatively stable region, the danger of war is no longer imminent, and the countries of the region have proven stable enough not to be thrown into chaos by political turmoil. Moreover, the European Union committed itself to integrating the countries of the region at the Thessaloniki Summit in June 2003. Why then, the reader might ask, do we need a third International Commission on the Balkans?

Despite the achievements to date, the stability of the region still rests on weak feet. Reform processes are hindered by the legacy of the past: immense structural challenges, constitutional problems, open status issues, a dire economic situation and political instability. Unprecedented amounts of reconstruction and development aid poured into the region could not lead to the desired results because of the chronic political instability and doubts about the future. How fragile even the peace is in some parts of the region was demonstrated by the violence which erupted in Kosovo in March 2004 - and the helpless response of the international community. Preserving the current status

quo will not suffice to achieve lasting peace and stability, economic prosperity and to pave the way for European integration. Additional efforts and a shift in international and Brussels thinking in particular are required in order to solve outstanding issues and accelerate the transition process.

In order to induce these developments with new momentum, the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the King Baudouin Foundation, the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation in a concerted transatlantic effort of private foundations decided to establish a new independent International Commission on the Balkans. We thank them for their inspiration and continuous support of our endeavor. Our task was to present results which will stir the debate on the future of the region and to ultimately develop a vision for the integration of the countries of Southeast Europe into the European Union.

The composition of our Commission reflected the changed situation in the Western Balkans and the different quality of cooperation that should guide the relations between the so-called "international community" and the region. It was a great pleasure and enrichment for me to work with 18 distinguished individuals both from the region and from outside the region who assembled such an array of expertise in matters Balkan, European and Transatlantic. In trying to understand the current situation in the countries of the Western Balkans, we relied on the analyses of experts who are familiar with the changing nature of challenges facing the region. We are especially grateful to James O'Brien, Srdjan Bogosavljevic, Jovan Teokarevic, Srdjan Darmanovic, Gerald Knaus, Stevo Pendarovski, Remzi Lani, Antonina Zheliazkova, Damir Grubisa and Josip Kregar whose contributions helped shape our opinions. Our intellectual and practical journeys through the region were prepared and guided by a conscientious and highly motivated staff.

Over the course of one year, we undertook four Study Tours to the countries of the Western Balkans which gave us the opportunity to exchange views with many individuals whose time is gratefully acknowledged. Unlike our predecessors, we did not have to face the immediate suffering and destruction caused by war. However, in many parts of the Balkans, the smell of violence is still in the air, and the distrust and hopelessness of people in view of the insecurity and dire economic and social situation is depressing. We left enclaves in Kosovo with the conviction that they will stand out as shameful symbols of the failure of international policy if the international community will not succeed in securing the basic rights of these people and establishing conditions for a better life.

During all of our visits, whether in Belgrade, Kosovska Mitrovica, Pristina, Sarajevo, Skopje, Tetovo, Tirana or Zagreb, the most memorable encounters were those with the youth and students, impressive young individuals who are trying to shape their future against bleak economic prospects in societies which have only begun to come to terms with their past. All of them see the future of their countries within the European Union. Understandably, most of them envisage their own immediate future abroad even though they are very attached to their homelands. We regard our recommendations as reaching out to these generations of potential leaders who are the future of the region and its hope for reconciliation. If the international community does not remedy the damage that some of its policies have done, we will see these young people leaving their countries in search of a better life.

Many will argue that the governments and the citizens of the region are responsible for the future of their own societies, and should bring their own houses in order. In view of the political and financial engagement since the beginning of the nineties and the responsibility the international community has assumed, such arguments are nothing short of cynical.

We do not cherish any illusions about the current political will among the member states of the European Union to make major new commitments. Enlargement fatigue hovers over the European capitals these days, the looming referenda on the European constitution question the future of the European project. In the absence of headlinegrabbing violence, many European politicians and civil servants hold on to the hope that the status quo is working just fine. However, if the reform and transition process fails, the Western Balkans will become even more of an isolated ghetto, and loom as a threat to stability and peace. The international community and the European Union in particular have been engaged in the Balkans to an extent which is unprecedented so far, and should see this engagement to a successful end. It will take more than symbolic gestures and rhetoric to build the pro-European constituencies in the Balkans who will translate their dreams into votes for political elites to carry forward the reform processes. And it will take no less of an effort to communicate the Balkans as a future part of the European Union and the sense of urgency to the public in European Union member states.

If the EU chooses success over failure in the Balkans, the next two years could see the beginning of a long-term solution to the problems that would enable all parties to close the book on the Balkans' bloody twentieth century and to win the peace which has been established at such high human and financial cost. It would also mean that this was the last International Commission on the Balkans which had to be initiated.

Giuliano Amato

Chairman of the International Commission on the Balkans

April 2005


It was in Sarajevo in the summer of 1914 that Europe entered the century of madness and self-destruction. The founding fathers of the European Union, Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, were respectively 28 and 26 years old. But their dream of a united Europe, founded on shared values and institutionalised interdependence, can easily be traced back to that summer day in Sarajevo.

Eighty years later, in the early days of the siege of Sarajevo in the mid-1990s, a photo of a half-ruined post office with three items of graffiti written on its wall captured the imagination of the world. The first graffito read "This is Serbia!"; the second stated "This is Bosnia". And someone scrawled underneath, "No, you idiots, it's a post office!" But a European historian of the present added a line of his own, "This is Europe". Because all of the destruction in the Yugoslav wars has been done by Europeans to other Europeans in Europe. The line "This is Europe" (Timothy Garton Ash, Bosnia in Europe's Future, New York Review of Books, December 21, 1995.) embodies the European Union's moral imperative when it comes to overcoming the legacies of war and destruction in the Balkans. There is also a security imperative. Political instability in the Balkans threatens Europe with the prospects of never ending military conflicts, constant flows of immigrants, flourishing of Balkan-based criminal networks and the erosion of the EU's credibility in the world.

It is in Sarajevo in the summer of 2014 that Europe should demonstrate that a new European century has arrived.


Almost a decade after the Dayton Agreement, and almost five years after the fall of the Milosevic regime in Belgrade, the Western Balkans (Since it first came into use at the turn of the 19th century, the Balkans have always been a fluid concept with countries being excluded and included regularly and not always for any discernible reason. The past fifteen years have seen the region go through more contortions of geographic definition. For the Commission's report, we have reduced the Balkans to include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro. Where we also wish to include Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria or any combination of the three, we have stated so explicitly. As we were working on this report, we had good reason to believe that Croatia was preparing to open negotiations with the European Union on the conditions for its accession.) are a relatively stable region with no military conflicts, no ongoing ethnic cleansing, where elections are free, if not always fair. In Thessaloniki in June 2003, the European Union committed itself to integrating the countries from the region. But what does this commitment really mean?

The region is as close to failure as it is to success. For the moment, the wars are over, but the smell of violence still hangs heavy in the air. The region's profile is bleak - a mixture of weak states and international protectorates, where Europe has stationed almost half of its deployable forces. Economic growth in these territories is low or non-existent; unemployment is high; corruption is pervasive; and the public is pessimistic and distrustful towards its nascent democratic institutions.

The international community has invested enormous sums of money, good will and human resources here. It has put 25 times more money and 50 times more troops on a per capita basis in post-conflict Kosovo than in post-conflict Afghanistan. But despite the scale of the assistance effort in the Balkans, the international community has failed to offer a convincing political perspective to the societies in the region. The future of Kosovo is undecided, the future of Macedonia is uncertain, and the future of Serbia is unclear. We run the real risk of an explosion of Kosovo, an implosion of Serbia and new fractures in the foundations of Bosnia and Macedonia.

The Commission acknowledges that there are no quick and easy solutions for the Balkans and that ultimately it is up to the people of the region to win their own future. But we are convinced that the international community and the European Union in particular has a historical responsibility to face and a decisive role to play in winning the future for the region.

The starting point of the International Commission on the Balkans is that the status quo has outlived its usefulness. There is an urgent need to solve the outstanding status and constitutional issues in the Balkans and to move the region as a whole from the stage of protectorates and weak states to the stage of EU accession. This is the only way to prevent the Western Balkans from turning into the black hole of Europe.

At the same time, we are also convinced that the EU possesses the mechanisms and the requisite political skill to face up to the challenge which the region will present over the next three years in particular. There is no doubt that Kosovo and the resolution of its final status will be at the core of the political process in the months to come. However, it is essential to bear in mind when addressing this and other unresolved status issues that they must be placed within a broader context of the EU's explicit commitment to include the entire region as defined at the Thessaloniki Summit in June 2003.

Getting Incentives Right

The Balkans needs a new strategy if it is to translate Brussels' stated political aim to integrate the region into reality. Despite the commitment made at Thessaloniki, the dream of European integration has not yet proved powerful enough as a force for transforming the societies of the Balkans, especially if we agree that the basic indicator of success is the progress of each country on the road to the EU.

Of course, the EU itself faces a significant dilemma as it has the capacity to absorb only reasonably functioning and legitimate states. But now that Croatia appears on the verge of the full accession process, there are no more of these left in the region. The classical enlargement model that worked for Central and Eastern Europe in 1990 simply does not fit the conditions prevailing in the Balkans. If this region is to become part of the EU, it needs to undergo significant changes. But success also requires a concomitant shift in policy thinking towards the region in Brussels.

As a matter of common sense, the international community must now address the unresolved status issues with the greatest degree of urgency and look for new constitutional solutions within the framework of European accession.

The question today is no longer, "What should be done?" We should clearly bring the region into the EU. Rather we need to establish the sequence of policy steps to be undertaken and the structure of the incentives that will make them work. We need policies so that the region can get on, get in and catch up with the rest of Europe.



The absence of headline-grabbing violence in the Balkans has persuaded many in the international community that the status quo is working just fine. This illusion of stability governed international perceptions of the Balkans until the spring of 2004. But the March events in Kosovo in 2004 brought home to some in the international community what has

been common knowledge in the Balkans for some time: that the status quo is not only unsustainable, it also might drive the region towards a new period of highly dangerous instability.

Whether one views it with trepidation or with enthusiasm, the process of final status settlement in Kosovo has already begun. We have entered a most delicate phase in the struggle for a peaceful and prosperous Balkans. There is a good possibility that the international community and local political actors will succeed in this difficult quest to solve the status issues. Such an outcome would almost certainly break the logjam that is blocking political progress in the region, representing a major achievement of international diplomacy as well as conferring immense credit on local political forces.

But everyone should be aware that failure is also a very real prospect and that the consequences of failure could be grave indeed. If the EU does not devise a bold strategy for accession that could encompass all Balkan countries as new members within the next decade, then it will become mired instead as a neo-colonial power in places like Kosovo, Bosnia, and even Macedonia. Such an anachronism would be hard to manage and would be in contradiction with the very nature of the European Union. The real choice the EU is facing in the Balkans is: Enlargement or Empire.

The signs of such a debilitating future are already visible in the quasiprotectorates of Kosovo and Bosnia. With no real stake in these territories, international representatives insist on quick results to complex problems; they dabble in social engineering but are not held accountable when their policies go wrong. If Europe's neo-colonial rule becomes further entrenched, it will encourage economic discontent; it will become a political embarrassment for the European project; and, above all, European electorates would see it as an immense and unnecessary financial and moral burden.

There are three major reasons that make us believe that the status quo is the problem and not part of the solution.

1. Expectations Gap

The status quo is a problem in part because the citizens of the region perceive it as such. A survey commissioned by the International Commission on the Balkans and conducted in November 2004 demonstrates that people in the region are overwhelmingly negative about the status quo and that there is an alarming distrust towards both government and the opposition. The public rejects the status quo but has yet to see any credible alternative being offered in its place.

When we compared our survey to a similar poll conducted in 2002, we observed a growing trend of public pessimism and dissatisfaction with the direction of political and economic developments. A loss of hope and perspective is the political reality of Western Balkans. And it is a dangerous one.

2. The Development Gap

The status quo is also a problem because it has widened the gap between the economic and social performance of the region on the one hand and of the new EU members and Bulgaria and Romania on the other. The years lost in wars and half-baked reforms have widened the gap between the winners and losers in Balkan societies, making the demand for fairness and development stronger than ever.

As others have noted, if the status quo were to prevail, a new European ghetto would arise in the heart of an integrating continent. This ghetto would comprise most of the Balkans' peoples, herded behind a wall of visa restrictions that blocks a desperate population from seeking work elsewhere. There is a risk that, instead of catching up with the rest of the continent, the Balkan countries will fall further behind. The goal of integration which holds the key to regional stabilization will become even more distant.


3. The Integration Trap

The consensus uniting governments and people in the Balkans is that the region cannot achieve prosperity and stability outside the process of European integration. At the same time, it is quite clear that the dysfunctional states and protectorates that characterise the region actively hinder the inclusion of the Balkans into the European mainstream. In this sense, the status quo is a problem because it is blocking the road to EU accession…

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