Balkans moving forward…

The European Commission released its annual reports on enlargement yesterday, including a recommendation that Macedonia be recognised as an EU candidate. Eagerly anticipated (including by Doug Muir a few weeks back), but also pretty stunning given the difficulties the region has had, and given the general perception of enlargement fatigue.

However in my view this piece of good news is put in the shade by this morning’s Guardian story about likely Bosnian constitutional reform. Apparently a deal brokered by the Americans, but lubricated by the prospect of EU entry, “would give Bosnia the ‘normal’ trappings of an integrated, non-ethnic parliamentary democracy: a national parliament with full legislative powers, central government and cabinet enjoying full executive power, and a titular head of state”.

It seems a little too good to be true – a bloody war was fought in and around Bosnia to reach the current constitutional structure, enshrined in the Dayton agreement, and while there has been much wishful thinking from various local actors about the possibilities of the international community imposing a settlement, that never seemed very likely. However it seems that the genial Donald Hays, a retired US diplomat whose last job was as Paddy Ashdown’s deputy, has managed to broker an agreement between the factions. My understanding from people close to the negotiations is that the likely deal this weekend is not quite as all-encompassing as the Guardian article suggests, but it is still a lot more than most people thought possible even a few months ago.

As for Macedonia, it too has witnessed an innovative constituional arrangement in the last few days – not in fact anything to do with the country’s domestic set-up, but in the recent arrival of Mr Erwan Fouéré in Skopje. He is simultaneously both the head of the European Commission office there, answering to Olli Rehn, and the EU Special Representative to Macedonia, answering to Javier Solana. This “double-hatting” would have become the norm if the Constitutional Treaty had ever come into force; we were being told at one stage in the spring of this year that it was otherwise impossible, but a way to square that particular bureaucratic circle appears to have been found.