Merkel Praises Macedonia, EU Struggles to Influence Romania

German chancellor Angela Merkel has praised judicial reforms in Macedonia as well as steps to improve transparency and resolve the former Yugoslav republic’s name dispute with Greece.

“In the last ten years, the solution has not been as close as now and it would be wonderful if the remaining difficulties can be bridged,” she said during a news conference with her Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev.

It would, but the dispute with Greece is only one of the many obstacles to the Balkan nation’s EU accession.

The EU has nevertheless set a target date of 2025 for the remaining states of the Western Balkans to join, fearing that otherwise Russia might take advantage. Read more “Merkel Praises Macedonia, EU Struggles to Influence Romania”

EU Balkan Enlargement Is Hardly Too Slow. It May Be Too Fast

Central and Eastern European countries want to speed up the EU accession of Western Balkans.

Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov warned this week, “If there’s no enlargement now, there’ll be no other time for enlargement… Otherwise what China, Russia, Turkey are planning for the region, they will start today.”

Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó agreed, calling the 2025 target date set by the European Commission for the accession of Montenegro and Serbia “very late”.

In fact, it is extremely ambitious, as an analysis by former Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt for the European Council on Foreign Relations makes clear. Read more “EU Balkan Enlargement Is Hardly Too Slow. It May Be Too Fast”

Macron Opens Door in Corsica, Rutte Pours Cold War in Sofia

Bonifacio Corsica France
Citadel of Bonifacio in Corsica, France (Unsplash/Hendrik Cornelissen)

French president Emmanuel Macron has told Corsicans he will try to meet their demands for more autonomy while keeping the island in the “republican fold”.

Ainslie Noble has argued that will be difficult, though:

  1. The French Constitution seems to rule out equal status for the Corsican language.
  2. Barring foreigners from buying Corsican estates is impossible under EU law.
  3. Amnesty for violent separatists may be a bridge too far.

Nationalists won a majority of the seats in Corsica’s regional council in December. Given the island’s economic dependence on metropolitan France, a Catalonia-style rebellion is nevertheless unlikely. Read more “Macron Opens Door in Corsica, Rutte Pours Cold War in Sofia”

There Are Reason to Be Cautious About Breaking Up Bosnia

Daniel Berman, who occasionally writes for the Atlantic Sentinel, poses an interesting question at his blog, The Restless Realist: Why not break up Bosnia?

The current situation seems untenable. Bosnia is divided in two: an autonomous Republika Srpska for the (mostly Orthodox Christian) ethnic Serbs and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina for the (Muslim) Bosniaks and (Catholic) Bosnian Croats.

The federation is itself divided into ten autonomous cantons, five of which are Bosniak-ruled, three Croat and two mixed.

This division, which emerged from the 1995 Dayton Agreement that ended the Bosnian War, has kept the peace but entrenched ethnic divisions. Parties are organized along ethnic lines. Every political appointment must be considered within the context of ethnic politics. Serb nationalists perennially demand more autonomy from a central government that is already one of the weakest in the world. Some dream of one day joining neighboring Serbia, where their nationalist counterparts would be glad to annex the Bosnian enclaves as compensation for giving up ethnic-Albanian Kosovo.

These political obsessions have left Bosnia’s economy in a sorry state. Nearly half the population is officially unemployed. 40 percent lives below the poverty line.

So why not give everybody what they want: states of their own? Read more “There Are Reason to Be Cautious About Breaking Up Bosnia”

Why Montenegro is Joining NATO

Milo Đukanović Jens Stoltenberg
Prime Minister Milo Đukanović of Montenegro answers questions from reporters in Brussels with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of NATO, April 15, 2015 (NATO)

Montenegro signed an accession protocol with NATO this week. 28 foreign ministers from the alliance’s existing member states signed the treaty earlier this month to clear the way for the Balkan state’s entry.

Expanding the alliance at a time when tensions with Russia are high due to the Atlanticist ambitions of another country in Eastern Europe — Ukraine — might strike some as unwise.

Montenegro, with its population of 600,000, also seems to offer NATO little. It has just 2,000 soldiers along with two frigates and four light ground-attack aircraft inherited from the former Yugoslavia.

So why is Montenegro joining NATO? Let us explain. Read more “Why Montenegro is Joining NATO”

Austria, Balkan States Agree to Curb Immigration

Austria and nine Balkan nations agreed to measures in Vienna on Wednesday that they hope will reduce the flow of migrants across the region.

Given that there is no “European solution in sight,” the countries are forced to pursue “national solutions,” argued Austria’s foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz.

Neither Germany, the most popular destination for migrants, nor Greece, the southern doorway into Europe, were invited to the conference — to the dismay of both. Read more “Austria, Balkan States Agree to Curb Immigration”

NATO to Invite Montenegro, Russia Dismayed

NATO will formally invite Montenegro to join the military alliance, diplomats told reporters in Brussels where foreign ministers have gathered for a two-day summit.

It would be the Western alliance’s first expansion since 2009 when Albania and Croatia joined.

NATO’s Cold War rival Russia has said it would regard Montenegro’s accession as a provocation.

But the United States expressed support. “We believe Montenegro’s membership in NATO will contribute to Balkan and European security,” a State Department spokeswoman said in Washington DC.

If things go according to plan, Montenegro would join at a summit in Warsaw next year. Read more “NATO to Invite Montenegro, Russia Dismayed”

Battles and Breaks

While the world was looking at the Russian military campaign in Syria, Russia may have scored a victory in Europe: the government of Valeriu Streleț in Moldova was toppled by a vote of no confidence initiated by pro-Russian parties in the Chișinău parliament. Meanwhile, opposition protesters clashed with police in Montenegro’s capital and the Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, visited Moscow. It seemed as if Russia had been on a winning streak. But in reality, Vladimir Putin has too many battles to fight and his own strategy — if there is one — put him under pressure. In fact, Russia is winning only where it does not have to have a strategy.

On 29 October, the government of Moldova had to resign after a successful vote of no-confidence in the parliament. It did not come as a surprise. The country had been in a turmoil since May, when a report by the Kroll company about the “heist of the century,” a scheme that resulted in the theft of $1 billion, one-eighth of Moldova’s GDP was made public. The report accused Ilan Shor, a 28 year-old banker, of orchestrating the theft.

But clearly, it needed more than that: it needed connivance by Moldova’s political elite and institutions. Read more “Battles and Breaks”