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I The Western Balkans: a region where France has a priority commitment

1 - A region marked by historical events ….

Arising in 1918 from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and of the Ottoman Empire, split up for the first time under tragic circumstances during the Second World War, Yugoslavia’s post-war configuration was wiped off the map in 1991, opening the way to a decade of armed warfare in the Western Balkans.

  • in June 1991, following on from referendums, Slovenia and Croatia simultaneously proclaimed their independence.
  • the Bosnia-Herzegovina war, fought between Serbs, Croats and Bosnians, broke out in March 1992 and constituted the most dramatic page in the annals of this war. It was brought to an end by the Dayton agreements signed in Paris on the 14th December 1995 after producing approximately 200 000 fatalities.
  • between May and August 1995, Croatia launched a military offensive to recover the territories lost after 1992;
  • the Kosovo crisis that began in 1998 was ended in Spring 1999 through the deployment of a NATO led (the KFOR) multinational force and the UN mission to Kosovo which took over the administration of the territory (the UNMIK);
  • the signature of the Ohrid agreements on the 13th August 2001 signalled the end of the seven-month long conflict between the Albanian minority and the Slav majority of the erstwhile Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

2 - …that has opened up to democracy and to a European rapprochement …

The coming to power of the democratic forces in Croatia (following the death of President Tudjman in December 1999) and in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (on the fall of Milosovic in Autumn 2000) turned a new page in the history of the Balkans which were finally embarking on their democratic and economic transition.

A European Union initiative under its French presidency, the Zagreb Summit (24th November 2000) brought the countries of the European Union and of the Western Balkans together for the first time. This indicated that the path to a European rapprochement had been opened to the countries of that region. This powerful lever provides firm support to the democratic and economic reforms initiated by the new teams in power.

3 - … and constitutes a challenge for France and for Europe

Since the 19th century and the birth of the Balkan nationalisms, France has worked hard for the future of this region, at the cost of a diplomatic and also, occasionally, a military commitment of some significance.

Located at less than 2 hours flight time from Paris, connected to the European continent through strong geographical, economic and cultural links, the Balkan countries are fully capable of becoming members of the European family. In 2005, Croatia will be the first to embark on negotiations for joining the European Union.

II A fundamental objective of France’s foreign policies: stability through democracy and through a European rapprochement

For almost ten years, France’s commitment in the Balkans has been governed by a global strategy: ensuring the region’s stability and prosperity by incorporating it into the European Union. Our entire action hinges on this objective and follows three major paths: stabilisation, democratisation and preparing the region’s country for EU membership.

1 - Stabilisation: crisis management

During the past decade, France has been involved politically, financially and militarily in all the crises that have affected the region. It did not stint its efforts, through its own channels and through the EU and international organisations, to prevent, defuse and resolve Balkan crises.

  • Resolving a crisis as it breaks out: This was the particular reason that caused it to enter into the fray from the start of the Bosnia conflict in 1992. Through its diplomatic approaches within the EU and the contact group founded by France, the Security Council, the ECSO, by the massive presence of its contingent in the United Nations international security force and then as part of NATO in Bosnia Herzegovina, France has been tireless in its efforts to secure peace in this country.
  • Defusing a crisis as the warning signs appear and promoting a peaceful settlement of disputes: The French diplomatic action undertaken in Southern Serbia in February and March 2001, in association with its European Union partners, the ECSO and NATO, meant that the crisis could be resolved through a policy supporting and assisting the peace plan adopted by the Serb and Yugoslav authorities.
  • Preventing a crisis by promoting the controlled progress of institutional changes: its efforts to achieve a peaceful and negotiated settlement to the Serbia/Montenegro dispute in January 2001 contributed to the signature of a tripartite agreement between the Serb, Montenegro and Federal authorities on the 14th March 2002, resulting in the creation of Serbia-and-Montenegro in February 2003. Similarly, France, with its European Union and USA partners, played a decisive part in persuading the Macedonian leaders to sign an “outline agreement“ (Ohrid Agreements) on the 13th August 2001. This laid consensual foundations for in-depth reforms within the ex Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, enabling it to bring an end to civil war.

2 - Supporting democratisation

France, as part of its bilateral cooperation and of the backing it provides to international organisations such as the ECSO,

  • helps to organise free and democratic elections;
  • gives its backing to current or future democratic teams;
  • assists with the setting up of States endowed with modern, effective and democratic laws, primarily through institutional cooperation, training for the new generations and the future elite, through initiatives designed to allow an inter-ethnic co-existence.

France is also promoting democratisation at a regional level: The aim is to convert nationalisms into patriotisms that are compatible with the values of regional tolerance and cooperation, recalling the message broadcast by the Zagreb Summit (“Democracy and regional reconciliation and cooperation on the one hand, the rapprochement of each of these countries with the European Union on the other, form a whole”). Cooperation with the ICTY constitutes one of the essential pre-conditions: the page covering the dark years can only be turned when those indicted by the ICTY have been arrested and handed over.

3 - Working towards a European rapprochement

The European rapprochement of each of the countries in the Western Balkans, the core of the French support policy for the region, is now well and truly under way.

In effect, the European Union has established a global policy for the region by offering these countries the possibility of association and, eventually, European integration. Once the South-Eastern Europe stability Pact had been put in place in May 1999, the Zagreb Summit together with the launch of the stabilisation and association process under French presidency in November 2000 signalled the setting up of a true European Union Balkan policy.This process has a regional dimension (respect for borders, need for cooperation between the States that had emerged from the old Yugoslavia …) and bilateral actions undertaken with each of these States, offering them the possibility, in time, of joining the European Union.

It led to the negotiation and signature of stabilisation and association agreements with several States in the region. In 2004, supported by France and Germany, Croatia submitted its application for European Union membership. This application was approved and membership negotiations are due to commence in 2005, marking the start of the final stage of the Balkan States’ integration into the European Union.