Open-door policy for Western Balkan countries

European Institute of Romania

Ever since its own accession to the EU was achieved, Romania has consistently stated its position in favour of the entrance of the Western Balkan countries in the European Union. Thus, at the “Croatia 2007” summit held in Dubrovnik in July 2007, Prime Minister Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu, after identifying as the main challenges to the region “the domestic reform processes” and “the resolution of security issues pending”, opined that both are closely linked to the “belonging to the European and Euro-Atlantic families”. Also, in a substantial foreign policy speech delivered one year ago (24 January 2007), President Traian Băsescu referred to Romania’s “ambition to demonstrate, through the force of its own example, that enlargement and deepening may go hand in hand […] Romania pleads for an open-door policy, as a major factor for stimulating democratic reforms and economic development”.
 
Beside these statements of principle, Romania considers that it may bring a positive own contribution to the acceleration of this process. In this respect, it repeatedly stressed its availability to share with the countries of the region its own experience and know how regarding the process of EU accession. In terms of concrete support given to the region, Romanian officials refer to the prominent part played by Romania, as holder of the rotating CEFTA presidency, in the accession to CEFTA of the Western Balkan countries, at the Bucharest summit of 19 December 2006, as well as its active involvement in the restructuring of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe.
 
The very recent Presidential elections in Serbia offered the opportunity for Romania to make a visible, albeit largely symbolic, gesture substantiating its availability to support the Southern enlargement of the Union. Thus, President Băsescu made a flash visit to Belgrade, on 29 January, that is, between the two rounds of the election, in a bid to support the position of the pro-Western candidate (recently re-elected President), Mr. Boris Tadic. Although he stated that he did not come in order to campaign for either side, President Băsescu made very transparent references to the options facing the Serbian people on 3 February 2008: “being part of the large European family or postponing”. On the same occasion, the Romanian President reiterated Romania’s position in favour of the signature of Serbia’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU, while regretting that the European Foreign Affairs Ministers declined to take a decision in this respect on the occasion of their 28 January 2008 meeting.
 
The 2007 Enlargement Strategy issued by the Commission in November 2007 has not elicited concrete reactions in Romania at official level, nor public analyses or comments from academics or media. On the other hand, the “Brok Report” drafted for the European Parliament as a reaction to the above-mentioned Commission Communication, has raised a number of observations by Romanian MEP (and vice-chairman of the AFET Committee), Mr. Ioan-Mircea Paşcu. In particular, Mr. Paşcu seemed to regard the formulation “more than neighbor, less than member” used by Mr. Brok as being under-specified: 1) it applies indiscriminately to both categories of states, i.e. those who had been given the formal status of candidates, as well as those who “do not enjoy the same perspective”, hence the need to find different sets of instruments, prone to motivate the latter; 2) what sort of motivation can be used in order to encourage the latter countries to “continue the reforms according to the terms required by the European values”.
 
The Kosovo issue
 
The end of 2007 saw a clarification of the details of Romania’s position regarding the future status of the Serbian province. Romania had always expressed reservations as to the accession to independence by Kosovo, but a certain cacophony seemed to emerge in summer, when the President and the Prime Minister held rather different discourses on the matter. While the differences may not have been substantial, they were (over-)exploited by the opposition, very prompt in highlighting any episode (whether real or not) of the ongoing political battle between the country’s top officials. 
 
Thus, on 12 July 2007[1], in Rome, Prime Minister Tăriceanu seemed to hint that the “Ahtisaari Plan” is a good solution for Kosovo, while the Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr. Adrian Cioroianu, was later suggesting that Romania is prepared to align itself to a “European consensus”, without making further qualifications. President Băsescu took this opportunity for reiterating that Romania is against the Ahtisaari solution “because it violates the territorial integrity” of Serbia, while making veiled references to “some dignitaries who are torpedoing” his own efforts to manifest “responsibility and credibility” in foreign affairs matters.
 
These apparently opposite positions have converged over time, however. At the governmental, as well as presidential levels a crucial qualification was made, in the sense that Romania is prepared to support any solution validated by a UN Security Council resolution. Absent this, Romania’s opposition to the independence scenario stands.
 
Speculations to the effect that Romania is thus de facto aligning its position to that of Russia (rather than to that of the EU) have been brushed aside both by Foreign Affairs Minister Cioroianu, who stated, following a visit to the US State Department in Washington (September 2007), that “Russia is using this issue in order to follow its own goals in the region”, and by President Băsescu, who – in a press conference held at the closing of the December 2007 European Council – reminded that he had held the same views in his investiture speech of January 2005, whereas Russia’s position vis-à-vis the independence of Kosovo is almost two years more recent.
 
On that same occasion, President Băsescu summarised the main arguments of Romania’s opposition to a Kosovar declaration of independence: lack of a Security Council Resolution; disrespect of fundamental principles of international law: territorial integrity, inviolability of borders; non-acceptance of the principle of collective rights for minorities.

The Romanian Parliament has also taken position on the Kosovo issue: in a resolution voted on 20 December 2007, it expressed support for the continuation of efforts towards reaching a negotiated solution, while also asking the Romanian authorities to devise a coherent position in the eventuality of a unilateral declaration of independence. Importantly, the Parliament also proposed the organization of an EU summit dedicated to harmonising the positions of the various member countries as concerns the final status of Kosovo.
 
At the same time, the Romanian authorities were keen not to be seen as lacking solidarity with the country’s EU partners and NATO allies. To this effect, Romania offered to contribute to the EU law enforcement force for Kosovo, but asked that a decision for its creation be taken before a possible unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, so as not to be faced with the situation of responding to the invitation of the authorities of a state that it does not recognize. The European Council made this decision in December 2007 and Romania has already committed 175 persons to its endowment. Foreign Affairs Minister Cioroianu reiterated Romania’s support for the mission on the occasion of a meeting held in Bucharest, on 22 January 2008, with his Serb homologue, Mr. Vuk Jeremic. It remains to be seen how this position of Romania will finally tally with that repeatedly expressed by top Serb officials, in particular Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who opposed the sending of such a mission on grounds that it would lead to the creation of a “puppet-state” in Kosovo.
 

The unilateral declaration of independence by the breakaway region of Kosovo was met in Romania with reactions consistent with the positions expressed prior to this unusual event. The day after the Kosovar initiative, on 18 February 2008, the Romanian Parliament voted an official statement to the effect of not recognizing the unilateral initiative of the Albanian population of Kosovo and showing full support for the similar positions expressed earlier by both the President and the Prime Minister. The statement was approved with a large majority, the only dissenting votes coming from the Hungarian minority’s party (UDMR) which, oddly enough, is one of the two parties represented in the current (strongly minoritarian) Romanian government. This prompt reaction was later complemented by a brief visit to Bucharest, on 21 February 2008, by Serbian President Tadic, which occasioned a strong show of support by the Romanian authorities and the corresponding expression of gratitude by the Serbian leader.


[1] Cotidianul newspaper, July 27, 2007.