EU gives leg up to Balkans

The turmoil in the Balkans always had a European setting. But it had no European solution. Heavy US and NATO involvement stopped the hottest of the Balkan conflicts, Bosnia, five years ago and imposed a meaningful peace.

A year and a half ago, the same transAtlantic partnership moved in to stop a slaughter in Kosovo.

But the key to long-range Balkan stability is political change, not military intervention. That change already is under way, as new leadership in Croatia and Serbia attests.

And the European Union now is offering the Balkan countries the carrot of "stabilization and association agreements." These pacts will provide development aid and the promise of closer integration with Europe. The EU is putting up $4 billion over the next six years.

The agreements also demand basic economic and political reforms, aimed at establishing democratic systems of government. Cooperation with international bodies like the war crimes tribunal is a requirement, too.

Macedonia already has signed an agreement, and Croatia is negotiating one. Presumably, a reform-minded Serbia could eventually join that train. A still-riven Bosnia, or a grindingly poor and corruption-prone Albania, may take even longer.

Bosnia has come a long way, but its rebuilt cities mask simmering nationalist politics and deep-set habits of graft and corruption. Kosovo's future remains tentative, and military conflict between Albanians and Serbs still flares. Within what's left of Yugoslavia, tiny Montenegro appears likely to persist in a path of greater independence from Serbia. In Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic holds on to a sliver of political power through his party leadership.

Europe's new embrace of the Balkans could temper all these negatives, giving a strong incentive for reform. In implementing its plan, the EU must work with the international stability pact set up under the Dayton peace plan five years ago, not in competition with it. All possible resources need to be brought to bear, and US involvement as peacekeeper and aid contributor is still much needed.

Europe's more affirmative role, however, is welcome.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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