Seizing Sarajevo

LONDON – Officially, the European Union has one Balkan policy: admit the region’s six countries. At the EU-Western Balkans summit in Thessaloniki in June 2003, all of the EU’s member states reiterated their “unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries.”

Partly as a result of that agreement, the Balkan countries have taken major steps forward. In Serbia, from where so much of the region’s destruction was planned, Boris Tadic’s government is seeking tighter links with the EU. Alongside Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia moved closer to NATO in 2006. In 2009, both Croatia and Albania joined the Alliance. Even the tiny country of Montenegro has had a hopeful few years since it declared independence in 2006.

After the EU established explicit criteria for visa liberalization and made clear that it was willing to admit some Balkan countries and not others, three states (Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro) kick-started reforms and achieved visa-free travel to the EU in 2009, with another two expected to follow shortly. The European Commission has declared that Macedonia is ready to start accession talks, while Montenegro, Albania, and Serbia have submitted membership applications.

But, as European leaders prepare to meet their Balkan counterparts in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, things have begun to look a lot less certain. Europeans seem increasingly divided about what to do with the Balkans.