The 1990s saw the violent break-up of the former Yugoslavia and the beginning of the transition from communism in the region. The region has since started the long route to greater stability and prosperity.
Stability in the Western Balkans matters; the region is on Europe’s doorstep and instability or conflict would affect the UK, including through migration and organised crime. The UK is therefore working to reduce the risk of conflict in the region, promote stability and reconciliation, and support reforms, as the region moves towards future EU and NATO membership.
The UK is a strong supporter of future EU and NATO membership for all countries of the Western Balkans (along with Iceland and Turkey). To reach this future in the EU and NATO, countries need to meet conditions for membership.
The EU accession process, leading to membership, requires serious reform efforts from the region, including on rule of law, organised crime and corruption, public administration, and economic reforms.
The UK is supporting these reforms with £3 million of Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) programme funds for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia (and Turkey), for example funding judicial reform or media freedom projects.
The UK is also providing expertise supporting accession-related reforms from across the civil service as part of the [EU twinning programme (http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/tenders/twinning/index_en.htm) to help governments make the necessary reforms. These reforms reduce security threats to the UK and promote a strong environment for British business interests.
Reconciliation is crucial for the region, following the conflict and atrocities of the past. Cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the UN court of law dealing with war crimes that took place during the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s, remains important, as does the leadership in the region openly and honestly acknowledging the events of the past, such as the genocide in Srebrenica.
The UK is also supporting conflict prevention efforts in the region, with around £10 million provided jointly from the FCO, Ministry of Defence and Department for International Development (DFID). The work is focused on Bosnia and Herzegovina and on Kosovo and includes:
- UK troops joining, in December 2012, the regional reserve for the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina
- support for the Srebrenica prosecutions team
- UK judges hearing war crime cases in Kosovo
- projects to support ethnic minorities returning to rebuilt homes following the Kosovo war
The UK continues to support safeguards against instability in Bosnia and Herzegovina, particularly the Office of the High Representative, the international institution responsible for overseeing implementation of civilian aspects of the Peace Agreement ending the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
DFID is working closely with the European Commission on the development challenges facing the Western Balkans.
Albania is already a member of NATO and has made an application for EU membership. The UK encourages further progress on reforms, particularly rule of law and democracy, for Albania to move forward on towards their EU future.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The UK remains wholly and actively committed to Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign, stable country with functioning state-level institutions. Significant political progress is needed if progress towards NATO and EU membership is to be made, but such progress will bring benefits to citizens throughout the country.
Croatia will accede to the EU in July 2013. The European Commission’s Comprehensive Monitoring Report on Croatia’s state ofpreparedness for EU membership, published in October 2012, noted the progress made by Croatia in its preparations for accession. The commission also identified a number of areas where further improvements are necessary in order to fully meet all membership requirements.
The Croatia Accession Bill would allow the UK to ratify Croatia’s accession treaty. All existing EU member states must ratify the accession treaty before Croatia can join the EU.
The UK recognised Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February 2008 and is a longstanding supporter of Kosovo’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. The UK is working closely with the EU to establish a stable, prosperous and multi-ethnic Kosovo that is making progress towards eventual EU and NATO membership.
The UK supports Macedonia’s progress towards EU and NATO membership. Since March 2002, the European Commission has reported regularly to the EU Council and Parliament on progress made by the countries of the Western Balkans region. The 2012 report describes the progress made by the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in preparing for EU membership.
Montenegro opened accession negotiations with the EU in June 2012. The UK supports an early focus on rule of law issues in the negotiations, notably strengthening the judiciary and tackling organised crime and corruption.
The UK is a long-standing supporter of Serbia’s EU future and welcomed Serbia becoming an official EU candidate in March 2012. We urge Serbia to make further progress normalising its relations with Kosovo in order to meet the criteria for opening accession negotiations with the EU. Domestic reforms and regional cooperation remain important.