27th Oct 2016

Ballkan summit plan draws mixed reactions

  • Slovenian Adriatic coast: it is thought the two countries want to be seen as conducive to progress on enlargement (Photo: robertivanc)

Slovenian Prime Minister Porut Pahor's intention to organise a conference of Western Balkan leaders in the second half of March has prompted mixed reactions in Brussels and among other EU member states.

While some countries support the move, others are worried that it could overshadow an EU-Western Balkans foreign ministers conference, scheduled by the Spanish EU Presidency, to be held in Sarajevo at the end of May or beginning of June.

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Slovenia and Croatia are co-organising, probably on the 20th of March in Kranj near Ljubljana, a Western Balkans summit in an attempt to move forward the EU agenda in the countries of the region.

The organisers are aiming for top level EU presence. EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, the Spanish Prime Minister and current EU chairman Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero and the EU's High Representative, Catherine Ashton, have all been invited to the event, according to diplomatic sources.

Some diplomats from EU member states welcome the fact that Slovenia and Croatia, after 17 years of bilateral dispute over their Adriatic border, have overcome their disagreements and are now forging a partnership.

"It is a good symbol that the conference is organised by two countries," one senior EU diplomat told this website. "Croatia's membership in the EU will be of big importance for other countries in the region. We are aware that there is a kind of face-cleansing motive for Slovenia behind this initiative. But the results will be positive and we support the event," he said.

Slovenia and Croatia have agreed to resolve their border dispute with the help of an ad hoc international arbitration court.

Other diplomats from different countries also expressed the view that, after Slovenia slowed down the enlargement process by blocking Croatia's accession talks, both countries are now keen to be seen as willing to help make progress.

Supporters of the Slovene-Croatian initiative also argue it will serve as a good preparation for the EU-Western Balkan conference to be held in Sarajevo to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Zagreb Summit. It was there in 2000 that the so-called Stabilisation and Association Process to prepare the Western Balkan countries for eventual EU membership was launched.

According to diplomatic sources, Germany and France are also in favour of the meeting. However, more cynical views suggesting the EU would like Slovenia and other countries of the region to deal with enlargement because it is no longer an EU priority can also be heard in Brussels diplomatic circles

Diplomats from some EU member states question whether it is appropriate that Croatia, before becoming an EU member, is co-organising the event. "This would send them a wrong signal that they are de facto in the EU while they have still to work hard to fulfil a number of conditions," one diplomat.told WAZ.Euobserver.

Apart from trying to please other EU member states and producing useful results, the organisers face the challenge of finding a formula on how to invite Kosovo without losing Serbia. Serbia's President Boris Tadic recently refused an invitation to attend the inauguration of Croatia's President Ivo Josipovic because Kosovo's head of state, Fatmir Sejdiu, was invited as well.

Kosovo coud be invited as "Kosovo/Unmik" (UN Mission in Kosovo). This would please Belgrade and Pristina would hardly be in a position to turn down such an invitation.

Slovenia's ambitions reach even further, however. President Danilo Türk said that it would be good if Serbia's President Boris Tadic and Mr Sejdiu met bilaterally in Ljubljana during the conference, something EU diplomats see as unlikely for the time being.

Mr Sejdiu told the Croatian daily Jutarnji list he was ready to meet Mr Tadic "any time at any place." But he added that it would have to be a "meeting of two presidents of two independent states."

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