BALKAN REGIONAL PROFILE:
THE SECURITY SITUATION AND THE REGION-BUILDING EVOLUTION OF SOUTH-EASTERN EUROPE
(A Background and February 2000 Issue in Brief)
Research Study 2, 2000
Hard copy: ISSN 1311 - 3240
AN I S N-SPONSORED MONTHLY ELECTRONIC PERIODICAL
While in February 2000 Romania and Bulgaria formally started their negotiations for accession to the EU, Yugoslav armed forces (VJ) began their concentration in the Southern province of Serbia, neighboring Kosovo, where 80,000 Albanians live. Resolutions of the ruling Socialist Party forum in Belgrade this month are directed toward raising tensions by declaring intent to re-establish control over Kosovo. The Milosevic regime became nervous after the murder of Defense Minister Bulatovic – a close personal friend of Milosevic. It followed thorough transformations in neighboring Croatia since parliamentary and presidential elections and after the Balkan nations’ new demonstration of regional solidarity during the Bucharest summit meeting and their ambition to prove that their future as countries from Southeastern Europe (SEE) is not linked to the present repressive FRY leadership and its policy.
The escalation of the ethnic hostilities in the Kosovo town of Mitrovica, the death of Albanians, Serbs, and the wounding of KFOR soldiers reminded observers why the international peace-keepers are there and how grave the problems are. There are good reasons to think that official Belgrade is behind tensions in Kosovo as well as in governmental difficulties in Bosnia and Herzegovina caused by the Bosnian Serbs’ party. However, analysts should not overlook the fact that during marches from Pristina to Mitrovica Albanians carried banners of the officially non-existentt KLA (UCK) alongside the Albanian national flag.
Nonetheless, normalization proceeds apace. Kosovo remains under the firm control of KFOR. Even in Bosnia it is still unthinkable to let the SFOR peace-keepers go. As for Kosovo, the Belgrade’s refusal to support the build-up of a multiethnic society multiplied by continuing dreams in some Albanian circles for a “Greater Albania” in the Balkans shows Kosovska Mitrovica’s results and reminds us of the NATO and EU pledges of long-term engagement with the region in general.
Positive tendencies in bottom-up SEE relations in February were solidly supported by the Pact of Stability and the South-East Cooperative Initiative, as well as by visits by the Secretary General of NATO and the US Secretary of State to the region. They reiterated that any move to build “greater states” like “Greater Albania”, “Greater Serbia” or “Greater Croatia” is absolutely unacceptable.
The post-conflict situation in Kosovo in February reached the highest tensions since June last year, mainly in the predominantly Serb town of Mitrovica. The killing of two innocent Serbian civilians on 2 February was followed by exchange of brutal murders of Albanians and Serbs and displacement of Albanians from the predominantly Serb north side of Mitrovica for their safety in the south of the city. Old hatreds and the spirit of vengeance still prevents the emergence of a peaceful Kosovo.
The new wave of violence was condemned by the UN Secretary General, the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU, the NATO Secretary General, and the US Secretary of State. Dr. Javier Solana confirmed that the EU supports a democratic and multiethnic Kosovo. Mrs. Madeleine Albright reminded Albania’s leaders during her visit in Tirana on 19 February that the ambition to build a “Greater Albania” would only lead to conflicts. She also noticed the existence of particular Albanian elements whose acts destabilize the security situation.
At the close of the fourth congress of the FRY Socialist Party, Yugoslav President Milosevic called on both KFOR and UNMIK to leave Kosovo “after their complete fiasco”. Restoration of sovereign control over its own territory would be absolutely legitimate, according to Mr. Milosevic. The Serbian opposition adopted a document about Kosovo on 17 February, calling for creation of appropriate conditions for life for all the province’s ethnic communities. The opposition required creation of self-governing institutions in Kosovo on ethnic principle. The chief of the department for international cooperation at the Russian Defense Ministry, General Leonid Ivashov, told the press on 14 February that NATO is now paying for mistakes it made in FRY, especially the underestimation of the Albanian ambition to establish a mono-ethnic Albanian state in Kosovo. Violence in Kosovo continues to nourish ideas of partitioning the province in the thinking of West European and North American analytical circles in addition to Albanian chauvinists living there.
Why should Kosovo not be partitioned? Because it would satisfy only those outside the region who seek a quick and easy solution regardless of its consequences and because it would vindicate Milosevic and the Albanian separatists and chauvinists. The end result would be a worse security situation for the Balkans compared to the situation before the Kosovo crisis and even before the war in Bosnia. The Balkans would again be “ripe” for conflicts and state dismemberment.
Despite a multitude of problems, the 44,000 KFOR troops in Kosovo have succeeded in two of their military missions: overseeing complete withdrawal of Serb forces from the province and transformation of the KLA into the KPC (the Kosovo protection corps). The latter has only prescribed humanitarian and disaster-relief functions. A major issue remains unresolved: KFOR soldiers, who are trained to fight wars, work as police officers. This was not the job they were trained for before coming to the region, and they should not be asked to perform this job (as in the case of Mitrovica) indefinitely. Nevertheless, in the tense situation in Mitrovica, NATO and KFOR reacted quickly to reiterate that it is KFOR that maintains control of Kosovo and will deal with any attempts to renew unrest in a similar decisive manner. The leadership of NATO decided on 25 February to bolster the 30,000 NATO troops in Kosovo with an additional 2,000 (three battalions). A stabilization plan for Mitrovica was announced by Gen. Reinhardt: greater security for the Serb enclave: eliminating the city’s dividing line; isolating the northern part so that it cannot be manipulated by Belgrade, and control over access of ethnic Albanians coming from southern Kosovo.
Another issue is the international police force needed in Kosovo – about 4,700 and now a little over 2,000. This hampers functioning of both KFOR and UNMIK.
People should also be reminded that UNMIK carries out a dual and complex mission – as a transitional administration and as an agent of establishing institutions for peaceful and normal life for all residents of the province. Amid all the difficulties of the last month, the Kosovo Transitional Council, the local “mini-parliament” with advisory powers to UNMIK, was inaugurated on 9 February . The 12-member Council has been increased to 35 members, drawn from the various political, religious, and ethnic communities of Kosovo. The Serb community is not yet actively participating in the Council, though two members of this community joined its work. Furthermore, the Kosovo Interim Administrative Council is already discussing regulations for voter registration, compilation of voters’ lists, and organisation of political parties in preparation for elections to be held later this year. The same issues were also discussed by the Kosovo Transitional Council on 16 February. UNMIK succeeded to avert a humanitarian catastrophe during this severe first post-war winter. However, more funding is needed, since funds available for Kosovo’s consolidated budget for 2000 would be exhausted by early March.
Though slowly, progress in Kosovo is made. And the need of KFOR is great for providing a secure environment for the UNMIK activity. The latter is expected to draft the long-term formulae for a lasting peace in Kosovo.
The downsizing of SFOR will continue beyond present plans and will reach 20,000 from the present 60,000. Yet, the presence of SFOR will still be needed for civilian progress. For the common people SFOR symbolizes stability and a safeguard against the return of extremist forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The presence of SFOR is even more important for those who want to return to their homes or doubt the correctness of this decision. However, requirements of the Dayton Agreement call for substantial media reform, arrest and trial of indicted war criminals; improved police activity, judicial reform, and a new way to structure the country’s armed forces, with Croats and Muslims integrated into military institutions. The thriving of central institutions remains the key to success in the country.
A positive trend in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the activity of NGOs, especially of humanitarian ones dealing with the issue of demining. Demining assistance to Bosnia and Herzegovina from the USA alone has been worth $41.2 million since 1996.
An ecological disaster was caused in February by the cyanide-contaminated waters of a Romanian golden ore mine when they poured into the Tisa river, crossing into Hungary and FRY to reach the Danube, Bulgaria, and back into Romania. The Black Sea will be the last water basin recipient. Millions of dead fish and birds - especially in Romania and Hungary but also in all the other countries down the Danube from FRY - endangered spring sources for drinking water and led to qualification of this catastrophe as a “second Chernobyl” for Europe. Restoration of some fish and bird species is considered impossible. Much of the Danube water is also used to irrigate crops.
The 11th regular national conference of the ruling UDF was convened in Sofia on 26-27 February. While confirming the country’s foreign, regional, and security policy, the conference addressed tough national problems such as poverty, corruption, and UDF organizational deficiency with no great success. Despite strong appeals coming from the President since last autumn, no corrupt UDF leaders have been identified and tried. The conference was largely an effort to start preparations on time for next year’s general elections.
Stjepan (Stippe) Mesic won the second round of Presidential elections on 7 February. Together with the multiparty government of Ivica Racan, he is expected to deal with an unfavourable financial and foreign trade legacy. The other major challenge is discarding ultranationalistic policies once and for all. Many world and regional leaders attended his inauguration in Zagreb on 19 February. Croatia’s model is expected to send a strong political signal to the Serbian opposition, adding to those from neighboring Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria.
General Dragoljub Ojdanic, former chief of staff of the FRY armed forces was appointed minister of defense by President Milosevic on 14 February. His predecessor, Pavle Bulatovic, was assassinated on 12 February. Ojdanic has been charged for military crimes by the International Court Tribunal on Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. Colonel General Neboisha Pavkovic replaced the new minister as chief of the General Staff. He was commander of Third Army in Pristina during the NATO campaign against FRY. He is also charged by the ICTY for crimes against humanity.
The government of Montenegro was granted $7 million by the USAID to support the country’s budget for payment of its pension obligations. The difficulties arose after pressure from Belgrade, which obstructed trade, and from the flow of refugees. Montenegro is also expected to serve as a model of democracy and good governance in the FRY.
On 12 February President Boris Traikovski appointed Colonel-General Jovan Andreevsky chief of the General Staff, replacing retired Trajce Krastevsky.
On 7 February the Greek Parliament re-elected Constantinos Stefanopoulos as the President of Greece. He received the support of both the ruling and opposition parties.
President Emil Konstantinescu appointed Major-General Mirca Celaru chief of the General Staff of the armed forces. He is 50 years and a career officer. His predecessor, Konstantin Dedzheratu, 52, became defense adviser to the Romanian President.
Another group of 11 Bulgarian policemen left for Kosovo on 7 February as part of the international police force in the troubled province. The Bulgarian police contingent now numbers 60 men and women.
Prime-Minister Kostov announced on 4 February that after the visit of Hacim Taci, the Albanian Kosovo leader, he expects the visit of Serbian Kosovo leaders too, and they have already been invited to come to Sofia. He also said that he has not accepted the invitation of Mr. Taci to visit Pristina. He qualified his meeting with Mr. Taci as “a political contact under the brand of preventive diplomacy”. The strategic location of Bulgaria requires contacts with key political figures in the Balkans. Mr. Kostov and the chairman of the Parliament’s Foreign Policy Commission Assen Agov were sharply criticized by the opposition for Mr. Taci’s visit in Sofia that provided a platform to raise claims for an independent Kosovo – later denied by Mr. Taci himself. According to Serbian opposition leaders Mr. Taci should have been arrested during his Sofia visit and brought to justice as an international outlaw.
On 9 February Belgrade banned import of oil, alcoholic drinks, cigarettes, and coffee from FYROMacedonia. The ban also includes export of any food to Skopje. This was a serious blow to the economy of FYROMacedonia, because FRY was its second largest trade partner.
After a successful mediating role of the EU and of the Pact of Stability authorities, the two countries agreed on 7 February to start construction of a second bridge over the Danube at Vidin-Kalafat. The issue has long spoiled bilateral relations. Bulgaria considers the Danube bridge at this location a major national security requirement as well as an important economic interest. Romania has disputed this location and has never agreed on the need of a second bridge. The coincidence of Bulgaria’s suggestion with European transport corridor No 4, the logistic problems that loomed after KFOR participants began to transport their contingents through Romania and Bulgaria to FYROM, and the clear Bulgarian pledge to subsidize construction of the bridge proved the case to the EU authorities. Their decisive mediation after the two countries were invited to start accession negotiations in December 1999 led effectively to the agreement, signed by Romanian, Bulgarian, EC, and Pact of Stability officials. This case proved that the region-building process in SEE still depends a great deal on ‘benign’ involvement from outside the region by great powers and institutions.
During the third week of February the editors-in-chief of major Bulgarian and Romanian newspapers met to discuss their specific role during the countries’ important processes of integration into the EU and NATO. This dialogue will continue in June this year in Sofia.
The Bulgarian government recommended on 24 February that Parliament ratify a bilateral de-mining agreement with Turkey. It is considered very important, due to the fact that Turkey is not a party to the International Convention for the Ban of Land Mines.
The prime ministers of Albania, FYROMacedonia, and Greece met on 3 February in FYROM and decided to launch a project to create a Balkan park in the Prespan Lake region (Prespansko ezero).
a. South-East European Initiative (SECI)/Pact of Stability for SEE
The World Bank announced on 10 February that together with six SEE countries – Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, FYROMacedonia, and Romania - it has signed an agreement, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to implement a three-year $68 million loan program to improve customs facilities and services in the region. The goal is to reduce smuggling and corruption at border crossings. This is expected to improve the climate for investment. The agreement promotes in a significant way regional cooperation through SECI and is one of the first large-scale efforts under the Stability Pact.
b. The Pact of Stability for SEE
The second working meeting of Working Table 3 met 15-16 February in Sarajevo to discuss security issues within the Pact of Stability for SEE. The purpose of the Working Table is to catalyze and stimulate existing forms of cooperation on security, defense, judicial, and interior issues. It should also coordinate various initiatives and suggest the funding of concrete projects that would lead to increasing stability and security in the region. Participants in the meeting were the 26 countries of the Pact and so-called “supporting” countries as well as representatives of international organizations. Regional cooperation in drafting of defense budgets, control in arms trade, and support in the process of social adaptation of the military from reduced armed forces were special accents in the work of the meeting. Prioritizing the more than 70 projects and ways to fund themwere also discussed.
c. The Regional Process of Security and Cooperation (‘The Sofia Process’)
The third summit meeting of the prime ministers of six Balkan countries – Albania, Bulgaria, FYROM, Greece, Romania, and Turkey (after Crete 1997 and Antalia 1998) - took place in Bucharest on 12 February. The Romanian host did not invite the FRY because the situation in this country has not yet normalized. The foreign ministers of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia participated as ‘observers’. The summit was also attended by Bodo Hombach, the special coordinator of the Pact of Stability for the SEE area. Leaders from the region signed a charter of good-neighborliness, stability, security, and cooperation in SEE. Mr. Hombach explained the importance of the Pact’s upcoming March donor conference this year – the ‘hour of truth’. The future host, Macedonian Prime Minister Georgievsky, said that if democratic elections are held in FRY, its leader may attend the meeting. Bulgarian Prime Minister Kostov recommended better targeting of sanctions against the Belgrade regime and not against the farmer or common citizen. Many bilateral meetings of the prime ministers added to the success of this summit. A Bulgarian proposal to the Romanian prime minister to integrate the two countries’ energy systems within the EU energy network was well-received. A Turkish-Greek meeting before the start of the summit sent a clear signal about the improved level of relations between these two leading Balkan countries.
Due to the formal start of accession negotiations to the EU, a special accent in this month’s analysis is made on the Romanian and the Bulgarian economic situations.
Unfavorable macroeconomic performance and structural problems have been worsened by difficulties of the severe winter. A slowdown of industrial output has been registered in Romania and Bulgaria. The official rate of unemployment tends to rise above 15 - 18% due to ongoing closure of enterprises and restructuring of the real economy. For some depressed economic areas in the two countries the real unemployment rate has reached nearly 30% of the working population, thus constituting a major social-policy problem. The private sector’s activity has stagnated as part of the overall economic slowdown. The public sector’s unfavorable financial results have contributed to the rigidity of tax policies in Bulgaria and Romania which must decrease the deficit of state budgets and sustain the servicing of their state debts (both domestic and foreign). Tax collection, as pending for the first quarter of 2000, is expected to contribute further to the declining rate of domestic aggregate demand and stagnation of the private sector’s short-term activities. Accession to the EU is often perceived as a problem of the transition to catch-up strategies requiring economic adjustment of the Bulgarian and Romanian domestic economies to the EU level of development.
In Romania the difficulties of state-owned mining, chemical, and metallurgical industries continued because of the lack of financial resources and ongoing restructuring measures. Servicing of foreign debt obligations has put the Romanian economy under strain. The credibility of the new Romanian government’s policy is still to become instrumental in putting the inflation under control and achieving financial stabilization. Structural reform must enable reduction of the size and impact of the quasi deficit (arrears, bad debts, underperforming credits, etc.) in addition to the state deficit, oscillating around 2.5%. Unemployment has become chronic, and the need of social benefits is growing. One third of the unemployed are young, and almost half of those who receive unemployment benefits must be considered long-term unemployed. For the rest of this year Romania will probably remain on the austerity track with falling or stagnating GDP and medium-term inflation.
The Bulgarian government presented Parliament an analysis of its program’s success in February, and new goals have been set especially stressing medium-term sources and policy instruments for accelerating economic growth. Perseverance in implementing the currency-board’s stabilization strategy should preserve confidence in its policies and contributes to the attractiveness of foreign support. Remaining problems are the worsening trade deficit, the low level of domestic aggregate demand, the decline in competitiveness of Bulgarian foreign economic activities, and the pending necessity to service foreign debt to continue fulfilling the IMF agreement.
Inherent structural weaknesses in the Bulgarian economy cause uncertainties about the economic forecast for 2000. Any revival of investment activities depends on improved aggregate demand and revival in the industrial and agricultural sectors as well as services. Deterioration of the industrial production in the first two months of 2000 is attributed to low domestic demand, the high real cost of credit, poor corporate governance, the impact of the foreign environment, and ongoing structural reform in the country. Inflation has been rising by 1.8% per month since January 2000 due to the increased price of oil, electricity, and food staples. Unemployment is expected to increase to 15% in 2000. New jobs have opened mainly in the private sector, while unemployment continues to rise in the public sector with ongoing privatization and cuts in the armed forces. Incomes and wages remain a controversial issue for both the private and public sectors. Stagnation of the minimum wage has been reconfirmed by the last review of the three-years agreement with the IMF on the grounds that any growth in the minimum and the real wage should be based on increased labor productivity and better economic-growth results this year.
Both Bulgaria and Romania now face a difficult foreign environment. The general situation in neighboring FRY remains uncertain and causes unfavorable consequences for economic activities in all sectors including existing pressures for shadow economic business. Trading partner countries’ demand is growing more slowly than originally assumed, prices for key exports continue to fall, and international investors remain cautious. The consequences of the war in Kosovo further exacerbated the risks and uncertainty of the foreign environment in the SEE area. To mitigate this burden, especially in light of an adverse foreign environment, policy adjustments may be needed to ensure that economic stabilization programs remain on track.
Future prospects of economic growth will depend on opportunities for recovery and reconstruction of the Balkan region - especially under Pact of Stability guarantees for the SEE area. Some uncertainty over acceleration of the initiatives related to regional restructuring may have an adverse political impact on the situation in all Balkan countries.
VI The Influence of the Outside Factors on the Region: National Great Powers and International Institutions
a) UN-Cyprus: The UN Secretary-General’s invitation to resume proximity talks between the two Cypriot parties was accepted and will take place on 23 May in New York.
b) UN-FRY: UNEP-Habitat Balkans Task Force started work on environmental clean-up feasibility studies at four Serbian “hot spots” on 13 February. Pollution already detected at Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad, and Bor poses serious threat to human health. Studies are required before the actual clean-up can begin.
(1) Formal EU accession negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania started on 15 February in Brussels. The first working round of negotiations is expected at the end of March. In an article for the Bulgarian daily “Trud” (“Labor”) of 17 February, British Foreign Minister Robin Cook wrote that the UK also has an interest of EU enlargement. It supports it not only because this presents opportunities for British exporters and investors but also because it is the best way to guarantee the SEE area’s security and stability. (2) The EU foreign ministers decided to lift the ban on flights to FRY for the next six months. This also affected this country’s air company. At the same time the EU intensified financial sanctions to prevent transactions of big sums through foreign banks by Yugoslav authorities.
(1) US Undersecretary of State Thomas R. Pickering visited Albania, Slovenia, FYROMacedonia, and Greece during the first week of February. He talked with governmental officials of these countries about the Stability Pact, about their vision of the region’s future, and about bilateral issues. In Greece he discussed naval, police, and trade cooperation. The undersecretary acknowledged the leading role Greece plays in regional affairs, including as an economic locomotive and an example for democratic, open-market development.
(2) US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with Croatia’s Prime Minister Ivica Racan on 2 February. A letter from President Clinton, which she delivered to the prime minister, made clear that the USA will look forward to Croatia being one of the USA’s strategic partners in the region. PfP, the Dayton Peace Accord, the economic reform, and other issues were also discussed. Mrs. Albright travelled again to Zagreb on 18 February, leading the US delegation attending the inauguration of Croatian President-elect Mesic. She also congratulated the Croatian people for choosing the path of economic and political reform necessary to reintegrate Croatia into the rest of Europe.
(3) Secretary Albright visited Tirana, Albania, on 19 February and met with President Meidani and Prime Minister Meta. She recognized the crucial role played by the Albanian people during the Kosovo crisis, especially in solving the refugee issue. Reminding them of the role Albania plays in regional stability and the country’s prospects for greater prosperity, she stressed how counterproductive plans for “Greater Albania” would be.
(4) Mrs. Albright and British Foreign Secretary Cook agreed on 9 February in Washington on the need to continue to isolate the Milosevic regime, to support the democratic opposition, and to promote an early transition to democracy in Serbia. The USA declared it is prepared to consider temporary suspension of the ban on flights by European carriers into FRY as long as sanctions that target the Milosevic regime are strengthened.
(5) President Clinton sent the Senate on 3 February a treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters between the USA and Romania, signed in Washington on 26 May 1999, and he recommended its ratification.
(6) At a meeting on 1 February between Prime Minister Kostov of Bulgaria and the US Ambassador in Sofia, the Bulgarian side confirmed its position on non-partition of Kosovo.
A US military delegation headed by Major General Joseph Garret visited Sofia in mid-February. He met with Minister of Defence Boyko Noev, Deputy Minister for Defense Policy Velizar Shalamanov, and representatives of the general staff of the Bulgarian armed forces. They discussed on-going military reform, its problems, and prospects for cooperation in the process of preparing for NATO membership.
During the last week of February the US command in Germany granted medical facilities and materials worth $585,000.
Lord George Robertson, secretary-general of NATO, visited Bulgaria on 9-10 February 2000. He met with the president, prime-minister, and foreign and defense ministers and addressed the Parliament in session. He underlined how important it is for a country like Bulgaria that its politicians take a consensus approach to defense issues.
The secretary-general also made an official visit to Romania and Moldova.
Soon after these visits Lord Robertson visited Moscow and met with the Russian leadership.
1. Tensions in Kosovska Mitrovica between Albanians and Serbs reflected both local hatreds and outside influences from Belgrade and Pristina. KFOR reacted quickly and resolutely to keep the situation under control. There is a growing need to build up an effective and large enough police force and prevent risking the life of KFOR soldiers in conflict situations for which they are not best prepared. Furthermore, the tasks of maintaining general military stability in Kosovo are responsible enough to keep the KFOR busy. Efforts of the Milosevic regime to undermine the security situation in Kosovo and in Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina are desperate reactions by him to the unfavourable regional environment – democratic leadership in Croatia; rising Balkan solidarity in denying the regime’s policy while supporting the democratic opposition, etc. Efforts to dilute the concentration of attention on Serbia also stems from the internal criminalization of Serbian society – a reflection of similar tendencies within the state itself. Obviously the pressure exerted from the USA, NATO, and the EU is an important reason for Belgrade to try to divert their attention to other hot issues, especially in Kosovo. In the meantime, the international community should not blind itself to the Albanian chauvinists’ opportunism – KLA flags are again visible; former KLA fighters and present KPC guardians shoot at police officers. The long-term counter-pressure to reduce ethnic tensions requires patience and impartiality by the two major opposing ethnic groups. Events in Mitrovica also remind us of the need for donor organisations and states to keep their pledges and provide the budget needed by UNMIK which will be completed by the beginning of March. The ecological disaster of Tisa and the Danube offered a reminder of the dangers human activity poses on the very life of humanity and other living species. Environmental tragedies do not differentiate between war-troubled or peaceful areas.
2. The month’s major democracy and region-building milestones were the start of Romania’s and Bulgaria’s official EU accession negotiations, the democratic presidential elections in Croatia and its turn to Euro-Atlantic integration, the bilateral, trilateral, and regional initiatives - mainly the process for cooperation and security in the SEE area, the Pact for Stability and SECI, as well as the visits of the US secretary of state and the NATO secretary-general to the region. Difficulties in the economic recovery of Bulgaria and Romania do not make them very fit for the accession process. However, it is also clear that the general regional situation may be improved if region-based initiatives within the Pact of Stability are turned into reality. This will be positively reflected on the regional countries that negotiate for EU membership.