The Balkans are at once the European Union's biggest failure and greatest success in foreign policy. The EU was unable to prevent the bloody war that broke out in 1992 or bring it to an end after it had started. Yet this failure shamed the EU into far more effective action a few years later. When a looming civil war in Macedonia in 2001 threatened the Balkans with disaster once more, the EU stepped in and managed to reconcile Albanian and Macedonian ethnic groups by brokering a new constitutional settlement for the country. Meanwhile, in war-scarred Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, great efforts are still being made to establish stability, prosperity and the rule of law.
In 1995, at the end of the war that shattered Yugoslavia, the international community sent a NATO-led peacekeeping force (IFOR, later renamed SFOR) to Bosnia and Herzegovina - the most fiercely contested and fought-over part of the region. The UN Office of High Representative was also set up, a sort of governor with wide-ranging powers to monitor and implement the peace settlement for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The EU's role was largely limited to providing humanitarian aid.
More effective use of EU aid
As part of its annual review of EU budget spending, the European Parliament had to look at the way this aid was managed. On several occasions MEPs stressed that it was being provided too slowly and that there was a lack of transparency and monitoring. This criticism started to bear fruit after the NATO military intervention in Kosovo in 1999. For the reconstruction of this ravaged region, which had come under UN administration after the Serbian retreat, it was decided that aid should be managed and overseen locally and not from far-away Brussels. Parliament insisted that the operational centre of the EU's Agency for Reconstruction should be in Priština and have a large degree of autonomy. As a result the aid was delivered far more speedily and effectively. Thus, when in the winter of 2000 Serbia was threatened by a crippling shortage of heating oil, the EU was able to deliver supplies in good time.
The Reconstruction Agency - which meanwhile has opened further operational centres in Belgrade, Skopje and Podgoriča - is accountable to Parliament as well as the Council. MEPs have therefore been able to intervene when they saw things going wrong. When resentment grew among Albanians in Macedonia because houses destroyed by the Macedonian military during hostilities in early 2001 were being rebuilt too slowly, Parliament made sure this became a top priority. It also insisted that enough of the money available should be directed towards demining.
It was largely thanks to Parliament that enough money was available for reconstruction at all. When in 1999 the EU budget for the next year was being decided, MEPs had to fight a hard battle against the Council to make sure that the 500 million euros deemed necessary by the World Bank and other international organisations for the reconstruction of Kosovo were actually entered in the budget. The Council, which had originally agreed that 500 million was needed, tried to backtrack on its original commitment and then even attempted to take some of the money away from funds for development cooperation. In the end Parliament succeeded in having 200 million taken from a budget reserve set aside for urgent and unforeseen budgetary needs.
Building closer ties
Parliament has helped shape EU relations with the Balkans in other ways as well. The Stabilisation and Association Process, which was formally put in place in November 2000, holds out the prospect of EU membership to the countries of the Western Balkans. It enables the European Union to work with each country to bring it closer to EU democratic and economic standards. Parliament has imposed important conditions on the Balkan countries wishing to be included in the Stabilisation and Association Process - such as full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, guarantees for the right of refugees to return to their homeland and a full commitment to the fight against corruption and organised crime. As part of the process, stabilisation and association agreements have been concluded with Macedonia and Croatia. In February 2003 Croatia formally applied for EU membership.
A more informal means of influencing developments in the Balkans which has proved very effective is the "MP Network for South Eastern Europe". Through this network MEPs meet regularly with Members of Parliament from the Balkan countries in relatively small and manageable groups, encouraging and guiding them along the path towards parliamentary democracy and democratic governance. The network is made up of delegations from the European Parliament and the parliaments of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Macedonia (FYROM), Montenegro and Romania.