ESI on Salzburg - Pristina - dangerous games

13 March 2006

Dear friends of ESI,


1. Salzburg - missed opportunity

On Saturday 11 March 2006, EU Foreign Ministers met with their colleagues from the Western Balkans in Salzburg. This was an opportunity to reassure the region that its European prospects are not slipping into the distant future. This opportunity was missed.

Instead of a proper EU-Balkan Summit - as took place in 2000 in Zagreb and in 2003 in Thessaloniki - this was only an informal meeting. Instead of a Declaration, this produced only informal conclusions.

The conclusions themselves were disappointing. In place of a strong reaffirmation of the Thessaloniki promise of eventual full membership of the EU, this pledge is watered down by reference to an "internal European debate on the future of enlargement" whose outcome remains uncertain. For the first time, there is also an explicit reference to the EU's "absorption capacity" as a potential barrier to accession.

In Thessaloniki, the EU had still noted the importance attached by the people of the region to achieving a more liberal visa regime. Now, all references to the goal of visa liberalisation have disappeared, in favour of a vague promise of visa facilitation. It is probable that potential candidates in the Balkans will be treated less generously than Russia, despite much progress achieved in the region. There is a risk that visa fees will in fact increase.

In its January paper, "The Western Balkans on the road to the EU", the Commission argued that "EU policies for the region should focus more on equitable and sustained economic development". But there was nothing in the Salzburg conclusions as to how this might translate into concrete action. The situation of the rural population in the Balkans - which includes many minorities and most returnees - is set to worsen, as subsidized imports continue to drive out local producers.

The informal meeting at Salzburg has done little to calm concerns across the Western Balkans. If it is remembered at all, it will be as a missed opportunity.


2. Mitrovica - Pristina - cultural heritage

As Kosovo status talks proceed, the issue of the divided town of Mitrovica in North Kosovo is back on the agenda. This focus has also brought renewed interest, including in the Kosovo Contact Group, in the 2004 ESI proposal how to resolve the Mitrovica stand-off.

It is in Mitrovica that all the Contact Group principles for Kosovo will be put to the test: return, multi-ethnic institutions, a viable future for Kosovo Serbs, no partition. At the same time, it remains the poorest town in Kosovo, its economic and social crisis deepening.

To contribute to a debate on the future of Mitrovica, ESI and Wilton Park are organising a one-day seminar for policy makers in Vienna at the end of the month.

Another important issue in Kosovo Status Talks is the protection of cultural heritage. ESI, together with a young Kosovo think tank (IKS), led by Besa Shahini, has undertaken detailed research as to how this protection actually works today.

IKS and ESI are preparing a case study of Kosovo's capital Pristina. The conclusion is worrying. A pattern of neglect and destruction of cultural heritage, that began with communism in the 1940s and continued under Milosevic, remains in place. The public institutions charged with protecting cultural monuments are weak. The applicable law has not been enforced at all since 1999. Most international advice has been ignored.

IKS director Besa Shahini and ESI Senior Analyst Verena Knaus presented the results of this research at a seminar in the National Museum in Pristina on 1 March. They also outlined a set of concrete recommendations. Most of the people involved in making cultural policy in Kosovo were present. A full report by ESI and IKS will follow.


3. Turkey - dangerous games?

The public debate in Turkey on Islamic Calvinists continued through February and March, raising some strong opinions both for and against the report.

One commentator, the poet Ozdemir Ince, devoted no less than eight op-eds in H

Gerald Knaus