Sunday, December 26, 2010
What Will 2011 Bring for the Western Balkans?
However, the country's EU accession bid is a desperate case. Albania lost the chance to obtain candidate status and became the only country to be given a negative opinion from the European Commission regarding its application. It will get a chance to repair this in the autumn but the political situation does not look any more promising for 2011 than it was in 2010. Augustin Palokaj
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
Bosnia and Herzegovina's main goals in 2011 are to meet all the conditions for the closure of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and to quickly process its expected application for EU membership, which needs to be forwarded by the Council of Ministers to the European Commission for assessment.
To achieve these goals Bosnia will need to have a government in Sarajevo capable of running the country and implementing necessary reforms. Unfortunately, almost three months after the last general elections, there are no signs of such a government being formed in the near future. On the contrary: two ethnic blocks – Bosniak-Muslim parties on the one hand, Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat parties on the other – are solidifying. Zeljko Pantelic
Bulgaria's presidential elections will be the centrepiece of the country's 2011 political calendar. The governing party GERB remains high in approval ratings and its candidate stands the best chance of winning, although the party has steadily lost support due to broken election promises and a worsening economic situation.
Prime Minister Boiko Borisov says GERB's likely presidential candidate will be interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, his number two in the party and in government. Mr Tsvetanov's image has, however, been tainted by an unconvincing attempt to explain how he acquired six apartments in Sofia after entering politics in 2006.
Bulgaria is likely to have its admission to the border-free Schengen zone delayed due to French, German and Belgian objections.
The country's economic recovery is expected to accelerate next year mainly due to increasing exports, but this will not immediately translate into improving living standards as internal demand will be suppressed by austerity measures to narrow fiscal deficit to 2.5 percent.
Many economists are sceptical that the government will be able to attain this deficit goal. Even if it does manage to, it will cause economic pain and is likely to further undermine GERB's popularity and create a basis for the fragmented and weak opposition to boost its position.
The main opposition Socialist Party has been slowly but steadily gaining in the polls. There are signs of a possible consolidation among the small and cantankerous right-wing groups, which will be trying to profile themselves as a right-wing alternative to Mr Borisov. It is conceivable that, like his predecessors, Mr Borisov will have to replace some of his ministers to appease rising discontent. Vesselin Zhelev
Croatia is entering yet another year with high hopes of concluding its marathon EU accession talks. With former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader behind bars in Austria and wanted for extradition, and with a deputy prime minister and one former minister already convicted for corruption, Croatia is delivering what the EU wants: "A convincing track record of conviction for cases of corruption at the highest level."
Croatia and the EU will conclude negotiations and sign the accession treaty in 2011. To secure this, Zagreb may have to close some of its five shipyards and will have to continue fight corruption at all levels. The EU has stated clearly that it does not want more cases like Bulgaria and Romania. The new EU mantra is: "Only those who are 100 percent ready can join." Augustin Palokaj
Europe's youngest state is not advancing towards the EU and faces increasing difficulties at home. Kosova has became exactly what the EU does not want it to be; a black hole in the Western Balkan region.
Its citizens can hardly travel anywhere without a visa. Fraud and other irregularities in the first parliamentary elections, organised crime and widespread corruption are making outside assistance increasingly difficult. At the same time, the EU and its 2,000 officials in Kosova will come under growing pressure to show concrete results in 2011.
Kosova will start its EU-sponsored dialogue with Serbia but this will not change anything. A possible trade agreement with the EU will not have a substantial practical effect either. None of the five EU countries that currently refuse to recognise Kosova are expected to change their positions in 2011, and Kosova will not became a member of FIFA or UEFA.
Unless there are some positive surprises, 2011 does not look a bright prospect for Kosova. Augustin Palokaj
The biggest issue for the Macedonian political scene in 2011 is yet again the name dispute with Greece. Athens and Skopje have been negotiating the issue under UN auspices since 1995, but without any result.
The planned erection of a giant statue of Alexander the Great in the middle of Skopje's main square will make it even harder to find a compromise with Athens. There is unlikely to be a solution to the dispute next year, and Macedonia risks remaining an EU candidate without a date for accession talks.
The country will disappear from the EU agenda and, warn MEPs such as Zoran Thaler or Yorgo Chatzimarkakis, this could destabilise the country where the 25 percent Albanian minority insists on rapid EU and NATO integration.
The Albanian question will likely surface once again, in ways to tackle the growing stagnation among Albanians living in Malesia, Ulqin, and Plava & Gusija. The exclusion of Albanians from Montenegro's political and social mainstream will certainly create uneasiness in 2011, as evidenced by the increased political activities in the U.S. diaspora during 2010. If Montenegro wishes to close the minority rights' 'chapters' en route to EU accession, it must seriously make inroads with its Albanian population.
Romania still hopes to be accepted into the EU's border-free Schengen area next year, although it remains unlikely until at least the spring. This date was unrealistic from the start, and became more so after some EU heavyweights began to question the wisdom of entrusting Romania (and neighbouring Bulgaria) with guarding and policing the EU's eastern external borders.
After the December EU summit, France and Germany sent a letter to the commission to that effect. France also bears a grudge towards Romania following the 'Roma affair'. Romania will certainly not join the Schengen zone early. Dan Alexe)
In the best case scenario, Serbia could become an official candidate for EU membership at the end of 2011. The country's Serbian leadership is also hoping to obtain a date for starting accession negotiations with the EU and to become a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Candidate status is within reach if Serbia arrests the former Bosnian-Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, who is wanted for war crimes and genocide by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. However, a starting date for the talks is unrealistic.
Deteriorating living standards in 2011 and an eventual failure to get EU candidate status could provoke new tensions in relations with Kosova before general elections, which are foreseen for spring 2012. Zeljko Pantelic.
Posted by Conference Organizer at 12:28 PM