International Commission on the Balkans: A Case Study on the Success of the 2005 Third Report

By Natalie Holmes Post date: May 15, 2014


Key Findings

1.     Integration into the European Union (EU) requires more than requesting compliance with membership rules.
2.     Elements of successful integration include:
       o   Programs that strengthen institutions necessary for state stabilization.
       o   Agreements on visa facilitation, readmission agreements, and trade-related issues.
       o   Follow-up by leaders with regional influence.
3.     The mission of regional stabilization through EU integration must remain a key issue, regardless of external events hindering actors’ willingness.

Executive Summary

In various respects, the mission of the International Commission on the Balkans proved successful. The document that they produced has enjoyed a long shelf-life, and is regarded as still being valid and relevant to the present situation of the Balkans. As demonstrated above, many of the recommendations were carried out in the years following—some “by the book” such as Montenegro—but some were not. In the case of Bosnia, the gravity of the situation was not recognized at the time of the report, and thus the recommendations were slighted, which in hindsight is noticed as a mistake. However, recommendation implementation was not as simple as reading the report and applying the steps discussed, and there are other external factors that have affected the ability of the Balkans to progress, whether in the style recommended by the ICB or not. Additionally, internal factors in the ICB hindered its ability to carry out its message in some areas. While it is nearly impossible to account for future external obstacles when writing a report such as that of the ICB, there were both internal administrative problems and adaptability issues from which lessons can be learnt for the future.[1]


In April 2004, the third International Commission on the Balkans (ICB) was initiated with the support of the Robert Bosch Stiftung (Germany), the King Baudouin Foundation (Belgium), the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation (US) (CLS 1). The purpose of this commission was to analyze the current situation of the Balkan region—mainly addressing Kosovo, Bosnia (and Herzegovina), Serbia, and Montenegro—and to determine how these nations might be incorporated into the European Union (EU). The commission was headed by former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, who worked with 17 commission members from all over Europe and the United States. These other members included current and former politicians and project leaders, whose vast accomplishments and international notoriety determined their suitability for the project. The commission embarked on multiple study tours of South East Europe and produced a final report one year after formation. In 2004, they visited Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2005, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Serbia were revisited (Amato 54-57). The report analyzed the currents issues preventing states in the region from attaining EU membership, and provided recommendations for each state that would hopefully facilitate the path to membership. The report also warned of the dangers facing the region if political progress was not pursued, claiming that “the region is as close to failure as it is to success,” primarily due to lingering violence, economic struggles, corruption, and a public distrust of democratization (Amato 7).

Key Actors

The International Commission on the Balkans was headed by Giuliano Amato, the former Prime Minister of Italy. High-level members from the Balkan region included Kemal Dervis, former Minister of Finance of Turkey; Mircea Geoana, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Romania; Kiro Gligorov, former President of Macedonia; Zlatko Lagumdzija, former Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina; Ilir Meta, former Prime Minister of Albania; Neven Mimica, former Minister for European Integration of Croatia; Janez Potocnik, former Minister for European Integration of Slovenia; Alexandros Rondos, former Ambassador at Large of Greece; Goran Svilanovic, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia and Montenegro; and Ivan Krastev, Chairman for the Centre for Liberal Strategies of Bulgaria. High-level members from other parts of the world included Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Sweden; Avis Bohlen, former US Assistant Secretary of State; Jean-Luc Dehaene, former Prime Minister of Belgium; Istvan Gyarmati, Chairman of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy of Hungary; Francois Heisbourg, Director of the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique of France; Bruce Jackson, President of The Project on Transitional Democracies of the U.S.; Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, former Governor of BBC of the U.K.; and Richard von Weizsäcker, former President of Germany.

Recommendations and Results

In their report, the International Commission on the Balkans members recommended that Kosovo be assisted in its transition to a position of “shared sovereignty” inside the EU.[2] Currently, Kosovo remains a potential candidate for EU accession, and it was not until 2012 that it declared the end of supervised independence.[3] The improvement of Kosovo’s political and economic situation has been slow, as has its progress towards EU accession; additionally, UNMIK (United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo) has not been transferred to the EU but remains under the power of the United Nations. There are multiple reasons why these recommendations by the ICB have not been implemented fully or correctly, which will be discussed below.

Despite specific advice regarding the integration of Bosnia into the EU, its overall progress has been slow.[4] While agreements have been reached between what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina and the EU regarding visa facilitation, readmission agreements, and trade-related issues, “High Level Dialogue on the Accession Process” did not begin until 2012, and BiH has not yet been offered candidate status.[5] The problem that has hindered BiH’s progress since its selection for candidate status in 2003 is its inability to comply with the priorities laid out by the EU for membership. Most simply, the EU requires “an effective coordination mechanism between various levels of government for the transposition, implementation and enforcement of EU laws remains to be addressed as a matter of priority, so that the country can speak with one voice on EU matters and make an effective use of the EU’s pre-accession assistance”[6].

For Serbia and Montenegro, the ICB members almost exactly predicted the trajectory of the states.[7] In 2006, Montenegro[8] and Serbia[9] declared their independence as separate countries and in 2008 and 2009 applied for EU candidate status, respectively. Accession negotiations began with Montenegro in 2012, and progress towards membership slowly continues in 2014.[10] Serbia was granted EU candidate status in 2012, and negotiations were formally initiated in January 2014[11]. While the progress of these countries has been slow, they have continually been moving forward; however, there is still concern that negotiations might slow to a halt, so their persistence is imperative.

Regarding Macedonia, the ICB members recommended that accession talks with the EU begin no later than 2006, and that Macedonia be invited to NATO in mid-2006.[12]  In late 2005, (the former Yugoslav Republic of) Macedonia was offered EU candidate status; however, membership negotiations were not recommended to be opened until 2009 and have yet to take place.[13] Regarding NATO, Macedonia currently participates in the Membership Action Plan (MAP), a program that advises and assists countries wishing to join NATO on the processes which they ought to undergo in order to be offered membership.[14] The MAP aided both Albania and Croatia in their path to NATO membership, and it is expected that Macedonia will be offered membership after the dispute over its name is resolved with Greece.[15]

The ICB considered the accession of Croatia to be vital to the integration of the Balkan region, and recommended it be invited to NATO in mid-2006.[16] Although negotiations for Croatian membership began in 2005, it took 6 years before Croatia was granted membership in the summer of 2006.[17] It was not until 2009 that Croatia joined NATO, after applying in 2008.[18] While the Commission’s recommendations were carried out, the delays exhibit the slowness of EU and NATO accession, both before and after the Eurozone crisis began in 2009. Thus, while this crisis can be invoked as an external factor inhibiting membership processes, it is clear that the processes are slow regardless, a problem that the ICB did not account for as realistically as it might have.

Finally, the ICB heavily weighted Albania’s stabilizing role in the Balkans, and recommended it be invited both to NATO and to negotiations with the EU in 2006.[19] Albania joined NATO in early 2009.[20] However, the path to EU membership has barely begun. Albania applied for membership in 2009, and was recommended candidate status in 2012; however, it currently remains only a potential candidate, and met with EU for its first “High Level Dialogue on Key Priorities” in late 2013.[21] Similar to other potential candidates, the problem that has hindered Albania’s membership since 2009 is its inability to comply with the priorities laid out by the EU for membership. This raises the issue of whether EU membership requirements are too difficult for Balkan countries to comply with in their present state, and whether assistance should be given to the Balkans for the development of infrastructure and institutions that would facilitate and expedite their ability to comply.

Lessons Learned and Future Considerations

The main internal obstacle arose in the selection of members to participate in the International Commission on the Balkans. Many of those chosen to participate in the ICB continued their advocacy of the mission after its formal commencement. Through members continuing to be active, the ICB remained relevant both in their minds and in others’ interactions with the region, so that the recommendations of the report were frequently referenced and considered. However, some actors that brought their reputation weight to the commission were unable to continue their advocacy after commencement either because they were too old or were not heavily invested in the mission. While it is important to select important and experienced professionals to participate in a commission of the ICB’s nature, it is equally important that members are committed to the mission so that the report produced is not quickly forgotten or neglected. Additionally, it is important to balance the membership distribution of political views and regional biases, so that the report produced is bipartisan and innovative while still realistic enough to be actioned.[22]

There were also unexpected factors that hindered the potential implementation of ICB recommendations, such as the European financial crisis and EU expansion woes. The effects of these were two-fold: not only did they hinder the EU’s ability and willingness to devote resources to efficient membership integration, but they also planted seeds of doubt in countries that no longer felt that the promise for membership could hold. This had the negative effect of discouraging countries from pursuing reforms as quickly as they could have, for the long-term game lost its significance without assurances for the future from the EU.

While it is difficult to predict future and external events, it would be prudent to recommend a strategy for progress that does not rely so heavily and singularly on an institution with divided attentions, such as the EU. That way, when external events interfere with the mission, it can adapt to changing circumstances while still moving forward with its objectives. However, the ICB members chose to rely heavily on EU standards and affirmations to judge the progress of Balkan improvement, despite the fact that many Balkans did not feel confident that the EU would allow for their accession for quite some time (see below). If they truly expected their partnership with the EU to yield the assistance necessary for the Balkans, they ought to have advocated for more EU resources to be diverted to the building of Balkan infrastructure and institutions. If the ICB members scaled back their recommendations for help because they already felt pre-European crisis that such demands on the EU were unrealistic, then they should have assessed what other means of assistance were available to the Balkans, and recommended the pursuit of outside aid to elevate Balkan countries to the standards of membership required by the EU.


[1] Interview with Vessela Tcherneva.

[2] .“In the case of Kosovo, the Commission suggests a four-stage transition in the evolution of Kosovo's sovereignty. This should evolve from the status quo as set out in Resolution 1244 to ‘independence without full sovereignty’ with reserved powers for the international community in the fields of human rights and minority protection; onto ‘guided sovereignty’ that Kosovo will enjoy while negotiating with EU; before finally arriving at ‘shared sovereignty’ inside the EU. In the view of the Commission, the powers of UNMIK should be transferred to the EU” (Amato 36-37).

[3] <

[4] “In the case of Bosnia, after ten years since the Dayton Accords, the Commission envisions passing from the Office of High Representative to an EU Accession Negotiator. This implies moving Bosnia from "Bonn to Brussels" whereby the EU Negotiator will replace the OHR. Bosnia should join PfP as soon as possible” (Amato 37).

[5] <

[6] <

[7] “In the case of Serbia and Montenegro, the Commission judges the current Federation of Serbia and Montenegro to be non-functional. The citizens of Serbia and Montenegro should decide by the autumn of the year 2006 whether to opt for a functional federation or functional separation. In the view of the Commission, the democratic future of Serbia is key to the progress in the region. The Commission therefore advocates that Serbia and Montenegro be extended an invitation to PfP immediately and that Serbia and Montenegro as one or as two countries should start negotiations or be offered a Europe Agreement at the Balkan Summit in the autumn of 2006” (Amato 37).

[8] <

[9] <

[10] <>

[11] <

[12] “The Commission regards the success of the Ohrid process in Macedonia as a model for other parts of the Balkans. Furthermore, it urges the European Commission to use the suggested Balkan Summit of the EU to start accession talks with Macedonia by the autumn of 2006 at the latest. In the summer of 2006, Macedonia should receive an invitation to join NATO” (Amato 37).

[13] < republic_of_macedonia/chronology/index_en.htm>

[14] <>

[15] <>

[16] “The Commission regards the decision of the EU to start negotiations with Croatia and the prospect of Croatian membership as central to the integration of the region as a whole into the EU. The Commission also envisions Croatia being invited to join NATO in the summer of 2006” (Amato 37).

[17] <

[18] <>

[19] “The Commission highly estimates Albania's contribution to the general stability of the region and thinks that Albania should be invited to join NATO in the summer of 2006 and be offered negotiations or a Europe Agreement by the autumn of that year thereby triggering the process of member-state building in the country” (Amato 37).

[20] <>

[21] <

[22] Interview with Vessela Tcherneva.