What is the effect of declarations like the one adopted at the Brdo-Brijuni Summit?

Samit Brdo Brioni u Skoplju
Source: Kosovo Online

A wish list or keeping Euro-enthusiasm alive in the Western Balkans? The declaration adopted yesterday in Skopje at the Summit of leaders of the Brdo-Brijuni process was interpreted in both ways by its signatories, and the interlocutors of Kosovo Online indicate that the importance of the declarations made every year at meetings within the framework of this initiative should not be overestimated. There are simply no guarantees that what is signed will come true.

The Skopje declaration was supported by the leaders of Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and North Macedonia, as well as the initiators of the initiative Slovenia and Croatia, and it emphasizes that the EU and the Western Balkans should be ready for enlargement as soon as possible, by 2030 at the latest. They pledged to intensify efforts to implement reforms in the Western Balkans, confirmed that regional cooperation and good-neighborly relations were of essential importance for progress on the path to the EU, and pledged to work together to foster an atmosphere of mutual trust, understanding, peaceful and permanent resolution of open bilateral issues.

Last year, for example, the participants of the summit, which was then on Brdo near Kranj, did not even manage to adopt the declaration because there was no agreement on its text, but they adopted the conclusions. A year before that, in 2021, the declaration was passed, and like this latest one from Skopje, it also contained a request directed at the EU to speed up the European integration process for the Western Balkans.

Vice President of the Center for Foreign Policy Suzana Grubjesic tells Kosovo Online that the importance of the Brdo-Brijuni Initiative should not be overestimated because, as she states, it is just one more of many regional initiatives.

"We should not overestimate the importance of the declarations that are made every year at these meetings, but we should respect the efforts of Slovenia and Croatia, which since 2010 have been trying to show others in the Western Balkans that the effort in resolving bilateral disputes is well worth it. Both countries strongly supported cooperation and the acceleration of the European integration of the region. Only last year, the joint declaration was not adopted, but the conclusions, because a part of the Bosnia and Herzegovina delegation did not agree with the wording of the constitution of the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which Croatian President Milanovic wanted to insert. This year, there were no similar attempts at imposition and a consensus was reached on the text of the declaration, which more or less deals with the same topics as before, with a special emphasis on the acceleration of European integration and a peaceful and permanent solution to the remaining bilateral issues," Grubjesic says.

According to Grubjesic, the fact that there were no guests at the summit this year, high officials from the EU, also speaks of the scope of such initiatives.

Speaking about the views expressed in the text adopted yesterday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that these were "good wishes", but that he did not want to destroy the optimism of others. Regarding the ambitious opinions expressed during the meeting - that joining the EU region is possible as early as 2026, the Serbian President stated that admission was impossible in 2027 and even 2028, vividly saying "even if we dig deeper". Montenegrin President Jakov Milatovic, who is enthusiastic about Montenegro's membership in the EU, was more enthusiastic and said that its membership would show that enlargement was really happening and that it did not exist "only at conferences".

Igor Novakovic from the ISAC fund tells Kosovo Online that the Skopje declaration is another form of "pushing" the reform process of the EU itself because it is the one that should be ready for enlargement. As for the part of the text that talks about the leaders' obligation to work together on a peaceful and permanent solution to open bilateral issues, he indicates that there is "a question of what the leaders see as their interest".

"The declaration shows goodwill, and how much of it will be implemented in reality will depend on political needs, because we are all aware that leaders in the Western Balkans very often use relations with neighboring countries as a topic for some kind of populist influence on their citizens. We have had cases throughout history in the European Economic Community where the leaders pursued those populist elements, but then some moments happen when the leaders change or the existing leaders realize that it is actually in their best interest to lead policies that lead to stabilization. But here the problem is that the legacy of all the wars in the 20th century is so strong that nationalism is essentially one of the strongest tools for the survival of politicians in power, and they often use it," Novakovic states.

Professor of Constitutional Law and analyst from Pristina Mazllum Baraliu believes that the declaration of leaders at the Brdo-Brijuni Summit is good and useful because of the involvement of Slovenia and Croatia, which are already a part of the European Union. According to him, there is no guarantee that the adopted declaration will lead to a solution for all open issues in the region, but he hopes that in the coming period, the policy will develop in a positive direction.

"Since Slovenia and Croatia are members of the European Union and are in the vicinity of the Western Balkans, I think there is a political, geopolitical, and traditional interest for those two countries to be interested in the other countries of the region. It is a joint initiative of the two countries that in the Western Balkans things are moving in the right direction, in the direction of integration towards the EU. I think the declaration is serious and important. Also, if we analyze the past, we know that the Summit in Thessaloniki more than 20 years ago was an attempt to orient these countries in the direction of integration and European perspectives of the country, and in fact, it did not produce an important result. So even now we cannot be sure whether this declaration will lead to real results, but I believe that it is very important and that there will be positive results in the further political course," Baraliu said.

When asked whether the countries of the Western Balkans were ready to be constructive and, as stated in the declaration, solve problems in a good spirit, Baraliu stated that this had to happen if the countries of the region wanted to progress towards the EU.

"Unfortunately, this is our concern, problem, and flaw, because we are not able to overcome some 'entanglements' from the past. The Balkan mentality is more destined for disagreements and conflicts than for working towards prosperity. It is a question which countries of the Western Balkans must overcome. This is, above all, our obligation, so that we can ask others to be equal and to find ourselves in the European family as soon as possible. Working on these issues is the task of the countries of the region and their future. I think it is time for us to be in the spirit of integration and liberal democracy. It has been proven that no one gained anything from problems and disagreements, but we only suffered damage and consequences," Baraliu said.

According to him, the European Union has the same task.

"The EU has the wrong political orientation because it has not fulfilled the promises made to the countries of the Western Balkans. It means nothing if the countries of the region are oriented towards the EU and have a European perspective if concretely nothing is done in the spirit of integration. The EU should do the same with the countries of the Western Balkans as in the case of Romania, Bulgaria, and other countries. This means that the EU would have to change its strict political orientation, according to which the Balkan countries are required to do what they cannot fulfill. The policy of unanimous decision-making should be changed, that all countries have to decide on something, which is why the round of integration cannot be realized. I hope that the EU has realized that such a policy is not correct and that it will receive the countries of the Western Balkans in the package even before 2030," Baraliu concluded.

The Brdo-Brijuni process was held for the first time in 2013 at the initiative of the Presidents of Slovenia and Croatia. The initiative was named the Brdo-Brijuni Process because of the joint idea of the presidents of the two countries for its organization - Brdo, after Brdo near Kranj, where the first meeting of the leaders of the region was held, and Brijuni, in honor of the co-organizer and partner of the initiative, Croatia. The leaders of the countries of the Brdo-Brijuni process meet at least once a year, and the main goal of this initiative is the full integration of the countries of the region into the European Union, stabilization of the situation in the Western Balkans through strengthening regional cooperation and solving open issues.