- In focus


South East Europe’s scorecard at the turn of the year presents somewhat contrasting picture – there is, definitely, a positive register of important achievements and forward moving steps, but there is also a long list of unfinished businesses and, by now, almost residual challenges.

If the advancement along the European and Euro-Atlantic path is a shared goal by the remaining enlargement countries from the region, and it certainly remains so, then one could note a progress.

First, by its Enlargement Package, the European Union (EU) has reaffirmed its commitment to the European perspective of Western Balkans, which is strategically important given the broader ”power play” of interests in this part of Europe, and which remains essential for ensuring durable security and stability against the backdrop of a number of open and unresolved issues in the region. Thus, even at the times of enormous economic, financial and political difficulties and challenges for the EU Member States, stemming from the current crisis, the enlargement momentum has been kept, providing an environment conducive to further progress regarding regional cooperation and reconciliation in Western Balkans. This allowed the remaining candidate and potential candidate countries to make a solid progress in economic and political reforms and fulfilment of necessary conditions, even against the backdrop of harsh effects of economic and financial crisis spilled over into the region, with multiple economic, political and social consequences.

Advancements in the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) framework, visa liberalisation and other steps clearly testify to the efforts of the aspiring countries from the region to respond positively to the conditions set out in the Enlargement Package. But, one should not shy away from the other side of the ”contrasts coin” – much still remains to be achieved in terms of consolidation of an all-inclusive regional cooperation. Renewed efforts will be needed to address urgently the remaining issues related to the durable stability of the political architecture in the region, perhaps new forms and tools will be needed to assist and support enlargement countries as they prepare for the negotiations, just as concrete results will be needed in trade, energy, transportation and other areas of cooperation. Last but certainly not least, strengthening the rule of law and public administration will remain an essential challenge as the countries aspire to join the EU.

In a nutshell, the enlargement perspective continues to provide opportunities that need to be translated into a political advancement by the aspiring countries, bearing in mind that the overall EU agenda is reshaping, burdened by the current crisis, just as the EU conditionality may become more rigorous and demanding in the future.

One definite example of the enlargement opportunities translated into a strategic advancement is the case of Croatia. Successful completion of the long and difficult accession negotiations and Croatia's envisaged full accession to the EU Membership as of 1 July 2013 is a proof of EU commitment to the enlargement policy, just as Croatia's efforts to respond by rigorous economic and political reforms is a proof of a transformative power of the EU accession process. Added value of this success should be a new momentum to the enlargement perspective of the Western Balkans, just as Croatia is expected to further promote European values in the region and pursue active role in regional cooperation, including in particular with its Western Balkans neighbours.

But, here again, one should not shy away from the other side of the ”contrast coin” – recent European Commission's recommendations and the European Council’s decisions broadly reaffirmed the enlargement perspective. In this respect, the first half of 2012 may prove to be decisive for Serbia, Montenegro and other aspiring countries as there is an evident interest of the region and of the European Union to avoid any strategic imbalance and ”sense of quarantine” that may invite prolonged vacuum in this part of Europe. This, again, only underlines the historical responsibility of the elites and leaderships in the region to resolve the remaining issues and provide for a durable stability as a prerequisite for the accession negotiations. At the same time, perhaps new tools and forms of assistance may become necessary to support the aspiring countries to engage in a thorough pre-negotiation preparations, in particular as the Commission has adopted a new negotiation approach whereby a more comprehensive preparations will be needed in the justice, home and security area, but also in many other areas, from the freedom of the media and minority issues to promotion of a culture of tolerance and many others, not to mention bilateral issues falling outside the areas of EU competence. The Europe 2020 Strategy in this sense also provides a valuable new avenue.

As our region is also affected by the global economic and financial crisis, there are also ”contrasts coins” in this sector – some economies in the region are doing well, with a dynamic growth providing prosperity, some have embarked upon a modest recovery, whilst some are still in a need of structural reforms and adaptations. In many priority areas, such as energy, transportation and infrastructure in particular, the region has only started to recognize the need for a common development approach and joint large-scale projects, and the EU Council's recent recognition that developing energy and transport cooperation with the enlargement countries directly benefits European citizens and businesses should open a new avenue for pooling around concrete projects.

For the Regional Cooperation Council, building on the achievements in 2011 and fully committed to implement the Strategy and Work Programme 2011-2013, the ”other side of the coin” in the year to come will be to prepare itself for the period beyond 2013.

Whilst remaining the operational arm of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP), the RCC is by now well-placed to provide the European Commission with a comprehensive platform in this endeavour, by relating its future work even more to the Enlargement Package and its concrete challenges. A successful first year of implementation of the RCC Strategy and Work Programme provides a solid ground for timely evaluation of the future RCC role and mandate beyond 2013, in particular in light of the EU Enlargement Package and the debate within the SEECP regarding the consolidation of regional cooperation. 


Biscevic, RCC Secretary General (Photo: http://www.mojevijesti.ba)

Biscevic, RCC Secretary General (Photo: http://www.mojevijesti.ba)