The CSS Blog Network

The Macedonian Crisis – A failure of EU Conflict Management?

Courtesy of Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This article was originally published by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) on 5 May 2017.

In the Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy, there is a chapter devoted to “An Integrated Approach to Conflicts and Crises”. It sets out a ‘multi-dimensional’ approach through the use of all available policies and instruments aimed at ‘conflict prevention, management and resolution’. The difficulty of transforming such lofty aspirations into reality couldn’t be more evident than in the ongoing and deepening crisis in Macedonia – an EU candidate country in the heart of the Western Balkans.

The eruption of violence on April 27th was a tragedy waiting to happen. The Parliament building was stormed by an angry mob, which proceeded to viciously attack several MPs from the main opposition Social Democratic Union for Integration (SDSM) party, injuring many, including the party’s leader Zoran Zaev. The attack was preceded by weeks of deep tensions following the early elections that took place in December. It was also the latest in a series of crises and violent incidents that have marked the past years of the government led by the ruling Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) party under its leader and former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, in power since 2006. Under his leadership the government has pursued an ethno-nationalist and populist agenda resulting in one of the worst reform records in the Western Balkan region.
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New Balkan Turbulence Challenges Europe

Courtesy of Renaud Camus/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by International Crisis Group on 28 April 2017.

The Balkans was best known for minority problems. Today, the most bitter conflicts are between parties that appeal to majority ethnic communities. As recent turbulence in Macedonia shows, Eastern Europe could face new dangers if majority populism ends the current stigma against separatism for oppressed small groups.

The trouble in the Balkans today is not Russian meddling, though there is some of that, but a special case of the malaise afflicting Eastern Europe: unchecked executive power, erosion of the rule of law, xenophobia directed at neighbours and migrants and pervasive economic insecurity. The pattern varies from country to country but is palpable from Szczecin on the Baltic to Istanbul on the Bosporus. The countries of the Western Balkans – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia – have long tended to follow patterns set by their larger, more powerful neighbours. They are doing it again.

The ability of the European Union (EU) to fix problems in the Balkans is hamstrung when the same troubles persist within its own borders, sometimes in more acute form. Take erosion of democratic norms: Hungary over the past decade has slid from 2.14 to 3.54 on Freedom House’s “Nations in Transit” democracy score (lower is better). Poland’s decline is more recent but equally steep. Croatia is also backsliding. Almost all the Western Balkan states are declining, too, but more slowly.
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NATO Enlargement: Why a Fourth Round is Long Overdue

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama with John Kerry in Wales, September 2014. Image: US Department of State/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by Atlantic-Community.org on February 23, 2015.

Since the late 1990s, the NATO alliance has experienced three distinct phases of enlargement: in March 1999, March 2004 and April 2009. Some security experts have taken a rather cynical view of this process, arguing that NATO’s eastward expansion was a factor in causing the current instabilities in the Ukraine. In fact, this analysis has proven to be very weak as it does not consider the efforts the alliance made to build a real dialogue with Russia over the course of 20 years. These individuals would equally want to be reminded of the so-called ‘dual-track approach’ to NATO enlargement, launched in the 1990s. This meant that any possible enlargement of NATO would have to go hand-in-hand with the formulation of a strategic partnership with the Russian Federation. This was the basis for the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act and was a coherent part in the setting up of the NATO-Russia Council in 2002. » More

Post-Big Bang Expansion, is EU Overcorrecting with the Western Balkans?

EU – Kosovo – wall painting outside Peje (Pec), Kosovo. Image: Adam Jones/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by Friends of Europe on 25 November, 2014.

“Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door”

Bob Dylan

The perspective of joining the European family has proven to be the most effective mobilising factor to stabilise and reform the Balkans. It’s replaced the dark scenario of conflicts sparked by efforts to redraw borders along ethnic lines. It has undoubtedly been the EU’s most powerful geopolitical instrument, the latest illustration being the brokered Belgrade-Pristina agreement. Before the process reached the point of no return, however, the enlargement policy has been challenged, accession hopes dangerously watered down and the door slammed shut, for now. » More

Time to Unblock Macedonia’s Accession to NATO

Image by NATO.

The first visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to Afghanistan last month underscored the changing nature of Western involvement in the country. Kerry, among other important discussions, finalised the transfer of the Parwan detention centre over to Afghan authorities. The centre has long been a symbol of the Afghan government’s demands for national sovereignty, and the transfer is indicative of a larger shift, which will see the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdraw by the end of 2014.

In the context of this reorientation away from Afghanistan, now is a critical time for Europe to re-evaluate its priorities. The situation at home should give it pause, with economic and political turmoil roiling the continent, and the European project of enlargement – once advanced under the optimistic banner of “Europe Whole and Free” – largely stalled. Now is the time for the continent to recommit itself to the original sources of its strength – integration and cooperation.

In practice, this means that European institutions, rather than commit to decades of nation building in Asia, should recognise those countries at home that contribute positively to the European project, in terms of economic prosperity, political stability, and international security. A leading example of such a country is Macedonia, whose contributions to the European community have far outstripped its modest population. Yet the leaders of both NATO and the EU have allowed the economic crisis and petty internal conflicts to put the brakes on one of their core missions: the expansion of European institutions to qualified regional partners. » More