On August 27th, the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) presented their policy brief “Removing obstacles to EU accession: Bilateral disputes in the Western Balkans” at the Vienna Western Balkans Summit. The policy brief, authored in part by The Hague Institute Distinguished Fellow Nikola Dimitrov with Natasha Wunsch and Marika Djolai, outlined recommendations to encourage and facilitate the resolution of bilateral disputes between Western Balkan countries.
The proposals put forth by the Group recommend comprehensive international involvement by regional and international actors and organizations, including the Regional Cooperation Council and the EU in particular, in resolving outstanding disputes between the countries of the region, such as the border demarcation disputes between Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and issues relating to statehood and minority rights. In order to secure effective solutions to disagreements between Balkan nations, the brief proposed the establishment of a joint framework for resolving border demarcation questions, encouraging bilateral negotiations and other peaceful means of dispute settlement. Short term measures include the identification of disputes that can be solved straightforwardly, to serve as an example for future cooperation, and the appointment of a dedicated EU coordinator for bilateral disputes.
The experts from BiEPAG suggested that governments of the Western Balkans adopt a joint declaration establishing their commitment to resolving disputes among in good faith and in the spirit of cooperation, including a promise not to hinder neighboring countries on the road to EU membership. In a hopeful sign of cooperation between the countries of the region, the “Declaration on Bilateral Issues” submitted by the BiEPAG was adopted by Foreign Ministers of the Western Balkan countries during the Vienna Summit. Annual reporting on the Western Balkan Summits will assess the progress made in the adoption of the agreement.