Interviewed by: Evliana BERANI / InfoGlobi
In an exclusive interview for Info Globi, political analyst, Florian Bieber speaks about the Western Balkan countries in transition. He believes that there is nor risk from the spill-over effect in the troubled region, but as he states there is a long road ahead in their paths towards the integration in the European Union.
How do you see overall situation in Western Balkan countries? Are you surprised that they are again causing headache to international community?
There are of course serious problems in the region, from polarized politics in Albania and Macedonia, no government in Bosnia, but these are political problems and it is hard to attract international attention at the moment. Especially with events in the Middle East, in particular in Egypt, the focus of the US and Europe is largely elsewhere and it is hard for the Balkans to be catching international attention. I also think that the problems of the region are serious, but one has to be careful not to exaggerate.
Kosovo and Macedonia are facing sort of institutional crisis. Albania and Serbia are involved in protests, is there a risk of spillover effect for other W.Balkan countries? Why?
I think there is no spill-over effect in the regions, the dynamics are different. What they share is three key causes: The economic crisis and thus lack of economic prospects, second the legitimacy crisis of governments in the region for not tackling corruption and third, the lack of sufficient and clear progress in terms of EU integration. This creates frustration in the region, but are not directly linked. In Serbia, the protests do not suggest that the government will fall, but rather that the Progressive Party might win the elections scheduled for next year. In Albania, it seems like the Berisha government is increasingly cornered like it was already 14 years ago and in Macedonia the opposition remains weak and the government firmly in control, although weakening lately.
Kosovo image has been damaged significantly. Having in mind that Kosovo remained a black hole in the Balkan, when it comes to visa liberalisation, or to the cut of preferential status of the goods from EU. Who is failing here and why? Isn’t this leading towards the isolation of Kosovo?
The problem is both with the government and the EU. The EU has been unable to formulate a clear perspective for EU integration, including visa liberalisation and a process towards accession. On the other hand, the government has lost a lot of credibility with being unable to really deal with allegations of corruption and moving Kosovo significantly forwards since independence.
KFOR will downsize its troops soon, while there are indications to end in a fast manner, the status of ‘supervised independence’. Is this a progress, or withdrawal of international community due to the decrease of the interest for Kosovo?
Generally, international organisations consider the political problems separate from security threats. While the political situation is unclear, both in terms of Serb-Kosovo relations and in regard to an effective government, but for this KFOR is not needed. I would thus not interpret this as an end to supervised independence, but a sign that despite the problems Kosovo is facing they are no longer security issues.
Prishtina and Belgrade are to start dialogue for technical issues. What do you expect from this dialogue and which are possible scenarios?
I am increasingly pessimistic. The longer it takes for the Kosovo government to form the harder it will be as little time is left. The Serbian government is unlikely to make any difficult compromises if it is concluded too close to the parliamentary elections, due by May 2012. Similarly, a Kosovo government is also likely to be weak and might hesitate to make compromises or be able to get sufficient support for such a compromise.
What Serbia has accomplished that Kosovo did not. The perception is that Serbia is closer to EU than Kosovo is?
Currently, Serbia is closer, and there is no doubt that in terms of laws and the institutions, Serbia will be ready much sooner to join the EU. However, the problem lies with Serbia’s relation to Kosovo. It is unlikely that Serbia will be able to join the EU without a clear relationship with Kosovo, which would include recognition of Kosovo.
What Balkan countries can do in order to speed up development process?
The problem is that parts of governing elites in most countries are not committed to EU integration, These elites often talk about being in favor of the EU, but block the process at the same time. There is a need for more serious reforms, not because the EU insists, but because it is benefiting the countries. What are intellectual elites doing? What do you think do they have a say at all in designing the future in the countries they live?
Intellectuals can be important in putting pressure on governments, to force them to take EU integration seriously and and also sending a clear message that reforms and EU integration is not just the only option, but also the most desirable option. Parts of the intellectual elite in the region still talks about the nation and nationalism and are thus helping those governing parties which talk about national interests as an excuse to delay EU Integration.
Please, may you elaborate your vision regarding the future of Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro? Is there a estimated timeline when transition in these countries will end? When they will become part of EU family?
This is a nearly impossible task. I would imagine that all the countries will be members of the EU in 15 years. It is unclear at this point whether the countries will join together which some in the EU will favor or whether the EU will encourage countries to compete for joining first. The order in which countries join is still unclear, but it seems that Montenegro might be ahead of others as it has no serious problems with its neighbors and is able to change the structure more rapidly than elsewhere. Macedonia could move quickly, but it will depend on whether or not a compromise with Greece will be possible, which will be hard and has been getting more difficult in recent years. What is clear that even if all the countries, including Kosovo, would resolve the outstanding the bilateral issues tomorrow, the challenges remain huge for the region and will take considerable time.