Politico about the Western Balkans Summit in Trieste mentions RECOM (Regional commission for the establishment of facts about war crimes and other serious violations of human rights committed in the former Yugoslavia from January 1, 1991 until December 31, 2001):
“And sensitive historical wounds remain open: longtime Serbian activist Nataša Kandić urged leaders at the summit to come to terms with the violent wars of the 1990s and jointly account for the 130,000 killed or disappeared.
“The establishment of a regional interstate commission which will establish the names of the victims and collect facts about war crimes is a state obligation,” she said.”
In Trieste, modest expectations for Western Balkan integration
Ministers endorse action plan for ‘regional economic area’ and back Transport Community Treaty.
TRIESTE, Italy — The European Union was hoping to get a firm grip on the Western Balkans at a summit Wednesday, but all it got was a limp handshake.
“We need to re-found Europe,” French President Emmanuel Macron said at a press conference at the Western Balkans Summit, which he attended alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and regional leaders.
“Look at what Europe has been doing lately to define shortcomings and lacuna that need tackling. There will be the funding countries, and those who want to join them can do so. We will be working on this project in the next few months,” he said.
Standing in front of a stately naval training ship, Merkel affirmed that fragile southeastern European states would join the EU — someday.
“The Western Balkans Summit shows us that our common duty is to make sure that these countries develop well and that slowly but surely they move towards the EU,” she said.
The meeting, the latest in a series of summits launched by Merkel after the EU opted to put a halt to enlargement in 2014, is designed to keep Western Balkan countries engaged with the bloc. The mood, however, was one of moderated expectations.
Brussels’ most recent proposal for bringing the Balkans further under its wing is a “common regional market” that aims to harmonize legislation and remove non-tariff obstacles to doing business. But the EU has devoted little energy to tackling the issues that block progress in the Balkans.
The plan allows leaders to focus on technical matters like recognition of professional qualifications, while avoiding the region’s thorny, longstanding bilateral issues — or explicitly pushing the countries toward accession.
The prime ministers, foreign ministers and economy ministers of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia endorsed an action plan for a so-called “regional economic area.”
“We should not take the EU for granted, but they should not take for granted our commitment to EU” — Montenegrin Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanović
The plan is a watered down version of a goal set after a smaller summit of regional premiers in Sarajevo in March, when the idea of a joint customs union was floated.
But the suggestion of a customs union has proven unpopular, especially with the likes of Montenegro and Kosovo — whose small economies rely on import tariffs and which are far from comfortable with the idea of giving up their revenues.
There are also concerns that a new customs union would have unwanted implications for the region’s integration prospects.
“In some countries they worried this would be a substitute for the EU, or that it would be a reconstruction of Yugoslavia,” Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić told POLITICO.
A regional economic area, on the other hand, is “something which everyone could agree on, and with that in mind we are satisfied,” said Dačić.
Other regional leaders, meanwhile, raised questions about the EU’s approach to the Balkans.
“We should not take the EU for granted, but they should not take for granted our commitment to EU,” Montenegro’s foreign minister, Srdjan Darmanović, told a forum of civil society leaders and foreign ministers, while also underscoring his country’s commitment to accession.
The regional zone will mostly focus on implementing parts of the Central European Free Trade Area, or CEFTA, which all countries have been a part of since 2007 (Kosovo is still represented there by the U.N. Mission in Kosovo).
The region’s bilateral and internal disputes, however, remain a significant obstacle for implementing the free-trade area. Bosnia’s smaller entity, the Bosnian Serb Republic, has blocked recognition of Kosovo and both Bosnia and Kosovo retain onerous visa procedures for one another’s citizens. Serbia still does not recognize Kosovo’s independence.
And sensitive historical wounds remain open: longtime Serbian activist Nataša Kandić urged leaders at the summit to come to terms with the violent wars of the 1990s and jointly account for the 130,000 killed or disappeared.
“The establishment of a regional interstate commission which will establish the names of the victims and collect facts about war crimes is a state obligation,” she said.
It remains unclear how this new regional market will address long-standing bilateral issues, but some observers hope that economic integration will contribute to better political cooperation.
At the same time, there are hopes that trade will help boost the region’s struggling economies and weak democracies.
“I’m strongly convinced that without investing, stimulating the economies, we will not make progress. If you are not guaranteeing transparency, functioning of the judiciary, you will not get foreign investors or even attract people inside the country to invest,” said Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner for neighborhood policy and enlargement.
Trade with EU on the rise
The Western Balkans lag far behind EU standards of living — in 2015, the region had unemployment rates of between 17 and 35 percent, with youth unemployment almost double the national averages. Hahn pointed out that in the last 10 years, the countries on average doubled their trade with the EU to a regional annual rate of €44 billion a year, but there has been little change to trade levels within the region.
During the summit, economy ministers were given the chance to pitch their businesses to investors from the EU and the region, while Balkan leaders used the occasion to pitch their countries.
“With all the challenges the European Union has faced, including Brexit, the desire of these countries to join Europe is a way for Europe to feel attractive, which is currently missing” — Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov
The most concrete outcome of the Trieste meeting was the signing of the Transport Community Treaty, the culmination of almost a decade of negotiations. Only Bosnia-Herzegovina did not sign because the government of its smaller entity, the Bosnian Serb Republic, blocked the country from doing so.
That prompted Brussels to temporarily suspend funding assistance worth half a billion Bosnian marks (€250,000) in already approved funds earmarked for regional transport and infrastructure projects.
But despite these challenges, leaders emphasized that their aspirations are still tied to the EU.
“With all the challenges the European Union has faced, including Brexit, the desire of these countries to join Europe is a way for Europe to feel attractive, which is currently missing,” said Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov.
“The readiness of the Union to finish the job and step it up is a chance for Europe to show that it can make a difference and be self-motivated,” he added.
Some EU leaders called for more concrete plans and aims for the Western Balkans.
Prospective members “need have to have a clear objective with dates accompanying those goals, so that we can say ‘Your efforts will have a final goal and will not be in vain,’” said Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano.
But despite the talk of cooperation, both sides are expecting only modest progress.
“Lowering our expectations of the EU comes naturally as a mirror of the EU lowering expectations of itself,” Albanian premier Edi Rama told POLITICO, while praising the summit’s ability to bring “normality” to the region.
“But in terms of the tangible effects on people — what was promised to us on connecting people through infrastructure — we are very far from what was expected.”
( Published on Politico, 12.07.2017. )