What will 2011 bring for the Western Balkans?
26. December 2010. | 08:49
Source: WAZ.EUOBSERVER, Sofia News Agency
For the first time in Albania's history, its citizens will have the right to travel to most EU countries without a visa. Many Albanians will use this opportunity in 2011 and most will return back home.
Fears that some EU countries may face a new wave of immigrants from Albania are unfounded. Around 1.5 million Albanians (not including those from Kosovo) have already left the country over the last 20 years, unperturbed by the existing visa regime. Those who try to stay illegally in the EU will be deported back home.
However, the country's EU accession bid is a desperate case. Albania lost the chance to obtain candidate status and became the only country to be given a negative opinion from the European Commission regarding its application. It will get a chance to repair this in the autumn but the political situation does not look any more promising for 2011 than it was in 2010. Augustin Palokaj
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
Bosnia and Herzegovina's main goals in 2011 are to meet all the conditions for the closure of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and to quickly process its expected application for EU membership, which needs to be forwarded by the Council of Ministers to the European Commission for assessment.
To achieve these goals Bosnia will need to have a government in Sarajevo capable of running the country and implementing necessary reforms. Unfortunately, almost three months after the last general elections, there are no signs of such a government being formed in the near future. On the contrary: two ethnic blocks – Bosniak-Muslim parties on the one hand, Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat parties on the other – are solidifying. Zeljko Pantelic
Bulgaria's presidential elections will be the centrepiece of the country's 2011 political calendar. The governing party GERB remains high in approval ratings and its candidate stands the best chance of winning, although the party has steadily lost support due to broken election promises and a worsening economic situation.
Prime Minister Boiko Borisov says GERB's likely presidential candidate will be interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, his number two in the party and in government. Mr Tsvetanov's image has, however, been tainted by an unconvincing attempt to explain how he acquired six apartments in Sofia after entering politics in 2006.
Bulgaria is likely to have its admission to the border-free Schengen zone delayed due to French, German and Belgian objections.
The country's economic recovery is expected to accelerate next year mainly due to increasing exports, but this will not immediately translate into improving living standards as internal demand will be suppressed by austerity measures to narrow fiscal deficit to 2.5 percent.
Many economists are sceptical that the government will be able to attain this deficit goal. Even if it does manage to, it will cause economic pain and is likely to further undermine GERB's popularity and create a basis for the fragmented and weak opposition to boost its position.
The main opposition Socialist Party has been slowly but steadily gaining in the polls. There are signs of a possible consolidation among the small and cantankerous right-wing groups, which will be trying to profile themselves as a right-wing alternative to Mr Borisov. It is conceivable that, like his predecessors, Mr Borisov will have to replace some of his ministers to appease rising discontent. Vesselin Zhelev
Croatia is entering yet another year with high hopes of concluding its marathon EU accession talks. With former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader behind bars in Austria and wanted for extradition, and with a deputy prime minister and one former minister already convicted for corruption, Croatia is delivering what the EU wants: "A convincing track record of conviction for cases of corruption at the highest level."
Croatia and the EU will conclude negotiations and sign the accession treaty in 2011. To secure this, Zagreb may have to close some of its five shipyards and will have to continue fight corruption at all levels. The EU has stated clearly that it does not want more cases like Bulgaria and Romania. The new EU mantra is: "Only those who are 100 percent ready can join." Augustin Palokaj
Europe's youngest state is not advancing towards the EU and faces increasing difficulties at home. Kosovo has became exactly what the EU does not want it to be; a black hole in the Western Balkan region.
Its citizens can hardly travel anywhere without a visa. Fraud and other irregularities in the first parliamentary elections, organised crime and widespread corruption are making outside assistance increasingly difficult. At the same time, the EU and its 2,000 officials in Kosovo will come under growing pressure to show concrete results in 2011.
Kosovo will start its EU-sponsored dialogue with Serbia but this will not change anything. A possible trade agreement with the EU will not have a substantial practical effect either. None of the five EU countries that currently refuse to recognise Kosovo are expected to change their positions in 2011, and Kosovo will not became a member of FIFA or UEFA.
Unless there are some positive surprises, 2011 does not look a bright prospect for Kosovo. Augustin Palokaj
The biggest issue for the Macedonian political scene in 2011 is yet again the name dispute with Greece. Athens and Skopje have been negotiating the issue under UN auspices since 1995, but without any result.
The planned erection of a giant statue of Alexander the Great in the middle of Skopje's main square will make it even harder to find a compromise with Athens. There is unlikely to be a solution to the dispute next year, and Macedonia risks remaining an EU candidate without a date for accession talks.
The country will disappear from the EU agenda and, warn MEPs such as Zoran Thaler or Yorgo Chatzimarkakis, this could destabilise the country where the 25 percent Albanian minority insists on rapid EU and NATO integration.
Another sensitive moment in 2011 could be the April census, which will determine the actual size of the Albanian minority. This is a delicate issue as the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) of 2001 gives important cultural and political rights to minorities making up at least 20 percent of the population. Macedonia's whole political architecture and inter-ethnic stability are based on this agreement. Svetlana Jovanovska
Moldova will stitch together a shaky governing coalition, but it will not be able to escape its socioeconomic mess. Almost one quarter of the four million-strong population – especially young people – work illegally abroad.
Locked on the fringes of the EU between Romania and Ukraine, with a fragile identity (formerly part of Romania and most citizens speak Romanian), Moldova will not be able to appear consistent in the eyes of the EU's decision makers. The only hope – reunion with Romania – is out of the question for the time being. Dan Alexe
The main goal of the new Montenegrin government next year, following the resignation of Milo Djukanovic (the 'father of the nation') as prime minister but not as leader of the governing political party, will be to obtain a date for the start of accession negotiations with the EU.
The list of conditions Podgorica has to meet first is very long. Montenegro will be in a similar position to Croatia, but with two additional shortcomings: its civil society and media freedom are much less developed, and the country is much more of a one-man – Djukanovic – show. Much, therefore, depends of the strength of the emerging leadership and whether it will have the courage to investigate Mr Djukanovic and his clan. Zeljko Pantelic
Romania still hopes to be accepted into the EU's border-free Schengen area next year, although it remains unlikely until at least the spring. This date was unrealistic from the start, and became more so after some EU heavyweights began to question the wisdom of entrusting Romania (and neighbouring Bulgaria) with guarding and policing the EU's eastern external borders.
After the December EU summit, France and Germany sent a letter to the commission to that effect. France also bears a grudge towards Romania following the 'Roma affair'. Romania will certainly not join the Schengen zone early. Dan Alexe)
In the best case scenario, Serbia could become an official candidate for EU membership at the end of 2011. The country's Serbian leadership is also hoping to obtain a date for starting accession negotiations with the EU and to become a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Candidate status is within reach if Serbia arrests the former Bosnian-Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, who is wanted for war crimes and genocide by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. However, a starting date for the talks is unrealistic.
Deteriorating living standards in 2011 and an eventual failure to get EU candidate status could provoke new tensions in relations with Kosovo before general elections, which are foreseen for spring 2012.