Academic journal article International Issues & Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs

The Dynamics and Context of Regional Cooperation in the Western Balkans

Academic journal article International Issues & Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs

The Dynamics and Context of Regional Cooperation in the Western Balkans

Article excerpt


Regional cooperation in the Western Balkans has demonstrated its viability in the last two decades. In the initial phase, international support was the key factor inducing the re-establishment of regional connections. Since the transfer of ownership from internationally led structures towards those that are regionally owned began in 2008, the flourishing of regional initiatives, networks, task forces, and projects has expanded, and led to the new reality of one or two regional meetings (or meetings devoted to the region) per day in recent years. This article offers a short analysis of the general constellation and main players and mechanisms of cooperation, as well as the chronology, existing challenges, obstacles, and prospects for its further development.

I think the climate in the entire region is better now than it has been in the past 15 years. The relationship between any two countries in the region, especially in the group of countries made up of Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, and also Montenegro, has never been betten despite the many open issues.1

Zlatko Lagumdzija, BiH Minister of Foreign Affairs

What, where, who, why...

Regional cooperation is a global phenomenon which assumes a different form, size and scope in the many areas of political, social and economic life. This article is about the dynamics and context of the regional cooperation within the Western Balkans, but also in the wider Southeastern European (SEE) setting.2 It is based on the growing literature on regional cooperation, several mapping and statistical exercises performed by the Regional Cooperation Council, and the personal experience of several years of active engagement in a regional organization.

The more than 15 years which have passed since the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement and the re-establishment of multilateral cooperation in the region justifies the timing of this stocktaking exercise. The great number of players involved requires an appropriate structuring and prioritization in evaluating their role. The aspirations to join the ELI and NATO, as well as an extensive reliance on international financial institutions (IFIs) and other donors, imply heavy conditionality regional cooperation is among the major

ones. The external incentives have played a crucial role in initiating the reintegration of the region, but authentic, indigenous initiatives of various regional players have had a growing role as the process has successfully progressed. From the very beginning top-down course of action has been followed, and in some areas even preceded, by another that was bottom-up (in particular by civil society organizations and local communities).

An active EU enlargement policy and the maintaining of its momentum3 remains a strategic goal for the EU and the Western Balkans. This includes regional cooperation as an important EU membership pre-condition, but also as a means to foster dialogue, reconciliation and stability across the SEE region. At the beginning, regional cooperation in the Balkans was regarded mainly as a peace strategy. Later on, regional cooperation in SEE was understood as part of the wider context of European and Euro-Atlantic integration, and was seen as instrumental for the core objectives of the EU and NATO in this region. It took some time before it was understood as something valuable in itself - as instrumental in providing the requisites for socio-economic development, competitiveness, and an overall better image of the region before it is fully integrated into the EU.

Thus, the regional cooperation in the Western Balkans is:

* a precondition for reconciliation and forsecurity, stability and prosperity in the Western Balkans;

* part of the conditionality for association and accession to the EU;

* support for socio-economic development in the region (through the coordination of various sectoral policies and donors' assistance, and the development and promotion of regional projects demanding common efforts, networking, or an economy of scale which will attract foreign investors]. …

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