Do we need a special envoy to the Balkans?

After I was elected to Montenegro’s parliament in 2001, I continued my political career at the foreign affairs department in a country that no longer exists – Serbia and Montenegro. I have since moved on to finance, but I am still a keen follower of foreign policy and can’t resist the temptation to comment. So I’d like to consider the European Union’s proposal to establish the institution of special representative for the Balkans – a topic that is crucial not just for Montenegro, but for all its neighbors as well.

In June, the press reported that Baroness Catherine Ashton, the EU’s top diplomat, was thinking about creating a Balkan-envoy post and handing it to Paddy Ashdown, the former high representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 to 2006. Other names circulating in the media included former Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák, who also served as Bosnian high representative from 2007 to 2009. (Montenegrins remember him as the man who oversaw their independence referendum on behalf of the EU back in 2006.)

The idea of an EU Balkan envoy is off the table for now, officially because it left the stakeholders divided. Yet the debate focused on who might fill the position, not on whether the position should be created in the first place. A closer examination of the arguments suggests the proposal got scotched due to disagreements over the person, not the post.

Some Europhiles reject the idea on grounds that a “special representative for the Balkans” would flag the region as a crisis zone. This argument seems dubious to me. Special envoys are widely viewed as the EU’s eyes and ears in places that require special attention. What seems to be forgotten here is that “special attention” does not necessarily mean keeping the peace in in a war zone. The Balkans requires special focus because we are beginning the stabilization and association process at a time when many EU member states are complaining of “enlargement exhaustion.” Sending a special envoy would demonstrate Brussels’ dedication to expanding into Southeastern Europe.

I believe the Balkans needs a special envoy who is able to see the region in its natural complexity, who comprehends the differences between the states and their constituent peoples. Montenegro has been blessed with stability – but this does not apply to all other countries in the region. A special representative could encourage countries that are making progress and support countries with special needs. As one diplomat told the EU Observer website, a Balkan envoy would not only function as crisis manager, but may help all existing EU institutions and officials (this includes the special representatives to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia, the Eulex mission  in Kosovo, and the EU delegation chiefs in all each separate country). The envoy wouldn’t be on the same level as Ashton or Enlargement Commissioner Stephan Fuele, but would serve as an adviser to them. 

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