May 10, 2013
Cross-Border Cooperation in the Western Balkans: A Driver of Reform?
Heather A. Conley and David L. Phillips
The vision of a Europe “whole, free, and at peace” has been a fundamental tenet of U.S. foreign policy. In its earliermanifestation, U.S. and EU policy concentrated on the political and economic liberalization and transformation of Central and Eastern Europe. In the eyes of Washington, this objective was largely completed in 2004, after themajority of these countries were accepted into the European Union and NATO. However, for most Western Balkancountries, the goal of full European integration is yet to be achieved.To reach this objective, the United States and Europe firmly believed that the magnetic attraction of both theEuropean Union and NATO would be sufficient to spur political reconciliation and economic reform by the politicalelite and civil society in the Western Balkans, as had been the case in Central Europe. The transatlantic policycommunity pointed to the Former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia as an example of the region’s most significantsuccess. Montenegro, with a population of 657,000, was offered a Membership Action Plan (MAP) by NATO in 2009and granted approval to begin EU membership talks in June 2012. Croatia is likely to formally join the EuropeanUnion in 2013, strongly reinforcing the enduring success and relevance of this policy.Yet reform efforts were successful in Central Europe not only due to unprecedented levels of policy focus andassistance by the United States and Europe, but also to the receptivity for internal reform across the politicalspectrum within each aspirant country. Unfortunately, despite a significant amount of Western investment in theWestern Balkans, there is no politically unifying vision among the elite and civil society to maintain sufficient reformmomentum for rapid transformation. Moreover, traditional reform tools, even on a very large scale, such as the EURule of Law (EULEX) mission in Kosovo, were unable to achieve desired institutional and integration success.
Assistance funds were occasionally unspent or spent unwisely. For example, in August 2012 it was reported thatgovernment officials in Kosovo tapped into funds intended for human capital retention to raise salaries and hire theirown party members.
Clearly, Western strategies and technical programs that were successful a decade ago inCentral Europe have fallen on uncertain and, on occasion, infertile soil in the Western Balkans. As time has passed,regional reform efforts have grown more uneven and precarious in the Western Balkans. Simultaneously, NATO andEU membership have become more aspirational than inevitable.Concurrently, both the United States and Europe are internally consumed with their own domestic debt and deficitchallenges. The European Union has particularly struggled with the need to correct the structural flaws of its currencyunion, which has prevented it from constructing a more coherent, cohesive, and common foreign policy followingratification of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty. For example, four years after Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008,and following the end of international supervision, five EU members have yet to formally recognize the country. Voidof political leadership, the EU enlargement agenda and its policies have become perfunctory and technical in naturerather than bold and visionary. Although the magnetism of EU membership demonstrates that from time to time itstill has some “pull,” as the recently successful Serbia-Kosovo agreement demonstrated, the EU accession process
European Court of Auditors, “European Union Assistance to Kosovo in the Rule of Law,” Special Report No. 18 2012,http://eca.europa.eu/portal/pls/portal/docs/1/17766744.PDF.
Muhamet Brajshori, “EU’s blue card attracts Balkan professionals,”
Southeast European Times