Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe: U.S. Helsinki Commission
Developments in the Western Balkans and Policy Responses
Committee Members Present:
Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)
Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs,
U.S. Department of State
McCain Institute for International Leadership
The Hearing Was Held From 10:00 To 11:33 in Room Number 106, Dirksen Senate
Office Building, Washington, D.C., Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Chairman,
March 5, 2014
CARDIN: Good morning. Let me welcome you all to this hearing of the Helsinki
Commission. We thank you all for being here. Today’s hearing is on the
Western Balkans. But I think I need to start by at least to acknowledging the
extremely serious situation that currently exists in Ukraine. It’s very
dangerous. Russia’s actions violate its OSCE obligations and its obligations
under other international organizations. It’s a concern to all of us.
Russia’s announced concern about the Russian ethnic groups within the Crimea
could easily be resolved by allowing the OSCE mission which is already
scheduled to provide some assistance to Ukraine full access to Crimea. It is
clearly aggression on the Russian part that is causing a problem not just in
Ukraine but the entire region. So it’s a matter of great interest to all of
This commission will continue to do everything it can to use all the tools that
we have available to help the people of Ukraine and continue to support the
legitimate government of Ukraine from the outside influence of Russia. And I
know that also expresses the sentiments of the members of Congress and the
As I said, today’s hearing is on the Western Balkans. This commission has had
a longstanding priority in the Western Balkans. We’ve had numerous hearings
since the breakup of Yugoslavia and the wars of the 1990s. The specific
countries have been subject to hearings before this commission.
And today, we’re doing a regional hearing so that we can look at all the
countries in the Western Balkans and the progress that they are making. I
think it’s fair to say that there is a common desire among the countries in the
Western Balkans for integration into Europe and many into NATO. Only Croatia
has achieved both EU status and NATO membership. So this is an area of great
interest to the United States.
And while the Western Balkans is no longer the setting for violent conflict
that it was two decades ago, we have had to devote considerable resources –
financial, diplomatic and military – to restore peace and to encourage the
democratic and other reforms necessary to sustain it. That job is not yet
done. We still have work to do in the Western Balkans. Having accomplished so
much, we need to see the task of a stable, democratic and fully integrated
Western Balkans completed.
These countries have also demonstrated a willingness to contribute to peace
operations globally and if they are not already, they should soon be our newest
allies in a stronger NATO alliance. It is my view, at least, that their
membership in NATO, if they choose to join, enhances our own security. And I
hope we’ll have a chance during this hearing to talk about the role that NATO
is playing and EU is playing in regards to progress in the Western Balkans.
In the past year, we have been particularly encouraged by Croatia’s joining the
European Union, the progress leading to the normalization of relations between
Serbia and Kosovo, the beginning of negotiations for Serbia’s EU accession, a
smooth political transition in Albania that will hopefully pave the way for
that country to begin soon its negotiations as well and Montenegro’s ongoing
progress towards both NATO and EU membership. Kosovo has just celebrated six
years of independent statehood. It still has a long way to go and must
confront some undoubtedly major obstacles along the way but has demonstrated a
very welcome commitment to moving forward.
While I am encouraged by these developments, we continue to worry that progress
in the two most multiethnic states in the region – Bosnia-Herzegovina and
Macedonia – has stalled. In Bosnia, we have seen for some time that the
political structure created by the Dayton Agreement with their emphasis on
ethnic balances rather than good governance has become outdated, undemocratic
and divisive. But we are now seeing the implications of trying to maintain the
status quo in the form of popular unrest and a public demand for greater
accountability. Macedonia, which has made considerable strides in its desire to
join both NATO and the EU, today struggles to maintain its democratic
credentials and internal cohesive while Greece’s dispute with its name has put
its aspirations effectively on hold.
Then there are issues that pervade the region – official corruption,
trafficking in persons, the plight of the Roma, attacks on journalists and
control of the media – which continue to be of concern. Many wounds of the
past, wounds in the form of missing persons and unpunished war crimes, remain
open and cannot be left unattended.
Several countries in the region will hold elections this year. The conditions
for free and fair contests could use further improvement at least in some of
these countries. The Helsinki Commission emphasizes the need for governments
to implement the commitments they have undertaken in the OSCE, especially those
relating to human rights and democratic development. And I hope we focus on
that here at this hearing.
At the same time, given the tremendous role and influence the United States and
Europe have in the region, we cannot ignore our own policies and whether they
are actually encouraging the progress we expect. We need to look at whether
mere promises of NATO and EU enlargement at some time in the future are
sufficient leverage for change and what we can do in the meantime to keep these
countries on track.
I want to welcome all of our witnesses today and thank them very much for their
participation in hearing. Our first panel today is represented by Deputy
Assistant Secretary of State Hoyt Yee from the Bureau of European and Eurasian
Affairs. He is a career foreign service officer with service in the Balkans
and at NATO and became deputy assistant secretary in September of 2013. As the
deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Zagreb, he helped facilitate the
Helsinki Commission’s visit to Croatia to attend a meeting of the OSCE
Parliamentary Assembly in 2011. We’re grateful for that. I’m glad that we are
continuing to work together and we look forward to your testimony.
YEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’d like to begin by thanking you and also to
join you in your expression of concern for the situation in Ukraine as well as
solidarity with the people and legitimate government of Ukraine, which I think
the situation underscores the importance of continued U.S. and European, NATO
efforts to strengthen peace and stability and security in Europe, including
through integration with the Western Balkans, which brings me to my testimony.
Mr. Chairman and distinguished commissioners, thank you for inviting me to
testify before the Helsinki Commission, which for nearly 40 years has played a
vital role in fostering democracy, human rights and security across Europe and
beyond. Given your keen interest in the Western Balkans, I am particularly
honored to provide an assessment of the region’s prospects for Euro-Atlantic
integration and overall democratic development. I look forward to discussing
how we and our European partners can best encourage further steps along that
The appeal of EU and NATO membership has been a positive force for the
political and economic transformation of the Western Balkans. I’m pleased to
say, as you note, Mr. Chairman, we have some successes to report. In the past
year, Croatia became the 28th member of the European Union. Montenegro
progressed towards EU accession. Albania had the best democratic transition in
that country’s history.
And perhaps most remarkably, Serbia and Kosovo signed a historic agreement to
normalize relations, a move that has spurred the European Council to begin
negotiating a stabilization and association agreement with Pristina in October
and to open EU accession talks with Belgrade in January. These advancements
and other positive developments in the region are especially encouraging
because they are in large part a result of sustained American engagement and
For more than two decades, the desire to support the aspirations of the Western
Balkan states to integrate into Euro-Atlantic institutions has been the
animating force behind U.S. engagement in the region. This has been a top
policy objective of Republican and Democratic administrations alike because it
is the best means of ensuring long-term peace, stability and prosperity in a
region that is a critical part of Europe. As impressive as the recent
successes have been, they do not obscure the many serious challenges the region
still faces, challenges that must be overcome before Euro-Atlantic aspirations
can be fully realized.
Progress comes most rapidly when political leaders and other actors break loose
from how things were done in the past. We saw this in Croatia where successive
governments remain steadfastly committed to the goal of EU membership. The
payoff came last July when Croatia became the newest EU member, demonstrating
to the entire region that hard work and compromise brings results. We’re
greatly encouraged by the ongoing dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo.
This EU-facilitated effort created a space in which Belgrade and Pristina
tackled the seemingly intractable differences that had prevented them from
moving forward on their respective European integration paths. Last April,
they produced a landmark agreement on principles for normalizing relations
between the two countries. Full implementation of the agreement will not be
easy. And the United States must remain engaged with Pristina, Belgrade and
the European Union to ensure progress continues.
Both sides will face numerous politically difficult decisions in the coming
years. We can expect to see some backpedaling and intransigence. However, I’m
confident that Serbia and Kosovo will remain on this path because it is
inseparable from their aspirations for EU membership.
Domestically, Serbia’s 2012 election produced a coalition government that
committed itself to reforms and to growing relationships with the European
Union and the United States. As Serbia heads into early elections March 16th,
we hope the next government will have a mandate to tackle the important
domestic reforms necessary to invigorate Serbia’s labor market, business
climate and economy.
With Kosovo, we remain focused on helping it strengthen its multiethnic
democratic institutions. This includes advancing reforms called for under the
EU’s stabilization and association process, the measured development of its
security sector, expanding recognitions worldwide and sustaining cooperation
with the EULEX mission including its investigation into allegations of organ
trafficking and other serious crimes.
Albania has also enjoyed a year of progress, highlighted by the successful
conduct of last June’s parliamentary elections and the smooth democratic
transition that followed. While Albania is already a NATO ally, much work lies
ahead on its EU path.
In December, the European Council deferred granting Albania candidate status,
calling for progress in the fight against organized crime and corruption. The
European Council will review Albania’s application in June and we are
encouraging the government and opposition in Albania to work together and to
achieve results in order to strengthen the case for positive decision.
Montenegro, which began EU accession talks last June, recently opened EU
chapters addressing the rule of law, judicial transparency and corruption.
NATO membership is a further goal. Montenegro needs to improve its efforts in
such areas as defense and security sector reforms and in bolstering public
support for NATO membership. The prime minister and other officials assured me
during a recent visit that they are working to do so.
Unfortunately, progress in the region is not universal. Macedonia’s
integration into the EU and NATO remains vital for lasting peace and stability
in the region. However, the name dispute with Athens continues to stymie
progress toward that goal. Both sides in that dispute should be motivated by
the desire to seek a solution that ensures the democratic and prosperous
development of the Balkan neighborhood.
We are deeply disappointed that the elected leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina
have not fulfilled the basic conditions for EU and NATO accession. As a result
of their focus on narrow, short-term interests, the longer term welfare of the
people they were elected to represent has suffered. Recent protests that swept
the country are expressions of citizens’ frustration. Citizens want to see
economic improvement and the building of a stable, multiethnic democracy. The
outbreak of popular protest underscores the need for the international
community to review its engagement with Bosnia-Herzegovina. Voters should take
their frustrations to the ballot box in October and choose candidates who are
serious about breaking the political logjam.
Official corruption is a daily fact of life across the region and it is
preventing democratic and economic reforms from taking firm root. Tackling
this pervasive problem is a first step toward meeting the standards of EU and
NATO membership. But that should not be the sole incentive. Combating
corruption and organized crime is vital and must be pursued vigorously in its
Realizing the full democratic and economic potential of the region is also
predicated on the existence of a free press. And this too is a goal that
should be pursued regardless of EU and NATO requirements. Many countries can
boast a vibrant and diverse media. But limitations on media freedom, often
through direct intimidation, are still a problem and in some countries a
growing problem. Some progress is being made. In January, two former members
of Serbia’s security forces were arrested for the murder of Slavko Curuvija, a
courageous journalist who was killed in 1999, not long after testifying before
this commission, for challenging the Milosevic regime. However, the recent
series of attacks against journalists and media outlets in Montenegro and the
drop in Macedonia’s media freedom rating by respected international NGOs
underscore the need for more reform-minded action.
A further challenge I’d like to raise is the treatment of minority populations.
Given the region’s long history of interethnic tensions and conflict, we
warmly welcome initiatives like the opening of a Serbian language school in the
village of Hamel, Albania. Greater strides however must be made to foster a
mindset of tolerance for persons belonging to national minorities.
And of all the region’s ethnic minorities, none is more vulnerable than the
Roma. Roma experience discrimination and violence and frequently live in
abject poverty. We will continue to support Western Balkan countries as they
implement the reforms needed to fully join the Euro-Atlantic community and
tackle the myriad challenges they face in improving human rights, providing new
opportunities for growth and development and building multiethnic democracies.
But it should not – it should be clear to all that the responsibility lies with
the elected leaders of the region to adhere to the path of reform and
integration and with civil societies of the region to hold their government’s
accountable when they stray from that path or stumble along the way. Thank you
again for this opportunity. I welcome any questions you might have.
CARDIN: Mr. Yee, thank you very much for that very comprehensive analysis on
the countries in the Western Balkans. You point out in every case it’s in the
U.S. interest for full integration, not only in Europe, the EU, but also in
NATO. You mentioned Montenegro. You mentioned others that are on path.
It was the 2012 meeting in Chicago that Secretary Clinton expressed her desire
that the next NATO meeting would be considering expansion of NATO. There’s a
meeting coming up, I believe in September, in the United Kingdom. What is our
position and what is the sentiment among our NATO allies on further expansion
and time schedules for further expansion within NATO?
YEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As you point out, there is a NATO summit coming
up in Cardiff, United Kingdom, in September. And one of the issues that will
undoubtedly be discussed is the future of the alliance, including future
membership by countries aspiring to join NATO.
It is a policy of the United States and other allies that NATO’s door remains
open and that countries that meet the requirements to join should be included,
should be invited to join. There are two countries at least that are very
interested in joining and have been working very hard to reach the requirements
necessary in order to achieve an invitation – Montenegro and Macedonia.
As you mentioned – and as I mentioned in opening remarks - Macedonia is
currently blocked by its dispute with Athens over its name. In the last NATO
summit, there was an agreement among the NATO allies that an invitation to join
the alliance would be issued to Macedonia when a mutually acceptable solution
to the name issue was found. And we hope that hat will still be the case. We
hope that Macedonia and Greece can reach an agreement on a name. We’re
actively encouraging both capitals, both governments to work towards that end.
We are to the extent possible providing ideas. And it is ultimately up to
those two governments to reach an agreement. In Montenegro’s case, Montenegro
has been very active, including through the Membership Action Plan process in
preparing itself and making the reforms necessary in order to convince the
allies that it is ready to join. It still has work to do.
And what we’ve told the Montenegrins is that while the door is open, time is
running short between now and September, between the time now and when allies
will need to make their decisions. Montenegro needs to make progress in its
fight against corruption and organized crime. It needs to reform its security
services, its intelligence services. And it needs to make the case that its
public – its public opinion supports NATO membership.
Public support for NATO membership in Montenegro now according to latest polls
is quite low. NATO allies would like to see that it’s not only the government
but it’s the citizens of Montenegro who are interested in joining NATO. So if
Montenegro can make significant progress in those areas with the short time
remaining, I think there will be great interest in the allies in assessing that
progress and in helping Montenegro move forward towards its goal of joining
CARDIN: I understand the U.S. position. But your response is encouraging.
You’re saying that you believe our allies in NATO are prepared to move forward
with expansion if the conditions are met.
YEE: Without speaking for the other allies, Mr. Chairman, I think that all the
allies have said repeatedly that NATO’s open door policy is real. It’s not –
it’s not an illusion. It’s not a false hope for countries that aspire to join.
The countries of the alliance understand and have been working with Montenegro
in its membership action plan process to prepare it for joining.
No one has told Montenegro that it’s impossible to join. We’ve all emphasized
that the time is very short. The remaining months do not leave a lot of time
for Montenegro to do what remains to be done. But we’re still saying, and have
not heard any country contradict this, that the door is open. The door may be
open only a small crack at this point. But it is still possible.
CARDIN: Thank you. You started your comments and I started my opening
statement noting a lot of progress that have been made in the Western Balkans,
which is real and we’ve seen a tremendous change from the wars of the 1990s.
In Serbia, there appears to be a genuine interest to fully integrate into
Europe, which is certainly very encouraging.
And you point out that there is now active discussions taking place between
Serbia and Kosovo. Could you just expand a little bit more as to how you see
Serbia’s interest in joining EU affecting Kosovo, perhaps Bosnia, and resolving
those issues and whether it’s likely that other countries in EU that have not
recognized Kosovo may now formally recognize that independent country?
YEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’d be happy to. Serbia’s decision, its
strategic decision to pursue EU membership in a very active and intensive
fashion has been key not only to its own dramatic progress over the last year
but also to Kosovo’s. Through the dialogue with Kosovo, Serbia, working with
the European Union which provided the facilitating role, Kosovo and Serbia have
been able to reach agreement on principles, on normalizing their relationship,
a progress, a development which was unthinkable or at least very difficult to
imagine a year ago.
This has helped both countries advance towards the European Union in large part
because the European Union has made it clear to them that in order to advance
towards membership in the EU, they would need to reach an agreement. They
would need to agree on a path for normalizing relations. So Serbia I think has
shown leadership, has shown initiative and showed courage in reaching out to
Kosovo and in the same way, Pristina has shown great leadership and courage in
answering that appeal from Serbia to work together towards first agreeing on
the principles but also to implement them.
I think this is creating momentum not only for both countries in leaving behind
some of the past, leaving behind some of the painful memories of what has been
the source of great conflict in order to build a better future for both
It’s not only for both Kosovo and Serbia but I think for the rest of the region
an example for how this kind of cooperative spirit, this willingness to look
ahead, not so much backwards, is a lesson for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia,
Montenegro and others which are in different phases in their own accession
process but I think very interested in the pace, the progress that’s being made
by Serbia and Kosovo.
I think it’s very clear that in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as you mentioned, Mr.
Chairman, the people, the citizens first and foremost, but also the leaders are
paying close attention to what’s happening around them. It has not been missed
– it has not been gone unnoticed – by the leadership in Sarajevo that the
leaders in Serbia and in Kosovo have been able to move much further forward
than Bosnia-Herzegovina has been.
The citizens are finally -- I think after a long period of time have finally
begun to speak up and express their frustration with the lack of progress by
their own political leaders, the kind of progress that they see being made in
neighboring countries including Montenegro and Serbia and Kosovo. So in short,
I think it’s a very positive development that is having a positive influence in
CARDIN: What is it going to take in Bosnia to get the type of constitutional
reforms that allow the country to have a centralized government that will
permit full integration into Europe? The Dayton Accords were supposed to be
temporary. And yet, we’re still living under those accords. As you point out,
the public demonstrations are clearly aimed at a more democratic country than
currently exists. With Serbia now moving towards integration into the EU,
what’s it going to take to get Bosnia to really give up its ethnic equations
and go towards a centralized, effective government?
YEE: Well, it’s a great question, Mr. Chairman, one we’re struggling with now
– “we” meaning the entire international community which realizes that the lack
of progress which has been underscored by positive developments around Bosnia
is in need of being addressed in a more urgent fashion. I think some of the
requirements for moving forward and for remedying the problem in – problems in
Bosnia-Herzegovina are actually happening. The ones you mentioned, including
the progress on the EU track by Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo. I think the
expression of the citizens, the willingness of the citizens in
Bosnia-Herzegovina to stand up and to protest, we hope peacefully. But we’ve
seen actually in some cases there has been violence which we condemn.
But the citizens actually standing up and expressing themselves is an important
ingredient to reaching the solution because it’s ultimately dependent on the
political leaders to agree on changes to the constitution, to the legislative
framework, to procedures under which the governments within Bosnia-Herzegovina
have been operating or not operating.
There needs to be reform. In my view, there needs to be fundamental reforms in
the constitution in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I fully agree the Dayton constitution
was not meant to endure forever as a monolithic, unchanging formula for
governance. It was meant to end the war, which it did in large part achieve.
We now are faced – the international community faced with a challenge of
helping the leadership of the country realize and accept the importance of now
seizing the moment, seizing the opportunity with the support of the
international community, with the momentum in the rest of the region to advance
towards European Union accession and NATO membership through fundamental
We now have elections – national elections coming up in October - that places
certain limitations, I think as a political reality, on what is possible. But
we can – we, the international community, can use this time to work with the
leadership in Bosnia-Herzegovina, civil society, the citizens to help them
decide on what kind of reforms are going to be necessary when the new
government comes into power.
CARDIN: Thank you.
Before recognizing Congressman Engel, and I will in a moment, let me point out
that Congressman Bishop of New York wanted to be here in regards to the
concerns on justice for the Bytyqi brothers. We have members of the family
that are with us today and we welcome them here. The Bytyci brothers were
killed in Serbia in the late 1990s. They were murdered. They’re American
citizens and we have been seeking answers to why no one’s been held accountable
for these atrocities. And they expect our government to do everything we can.
Now that Serbia is moving towards integration into Europe, the opportunities to
get closer cooperation may very well exist. Can you give us either in a reply
now or written reply the efforts that are being made to bring justice to these
YEE: Mr. Chairman, I’d be happy to answer that question and also to provide
additional details in written form about what the Serbian government is doing.
I will say that we at the State Department and the entire U.S. government, all
agencies who are concerned with this issue, take the importance of bringing to
justice, of ensuring that those responsible are brought to justice extremely
seriously. We are dedicated to raising this with the Serbian government at
Deputy Secretary Burns recently met with the prime minister of Serbia and
brought it up as one of the first topics of the agenda. Our expectation, the
U.S. government’s expectation that Serbia does everything possible to bring to
justice those responsible for the murder of the Bytyqi brothers. I would like
to reassure you and also the members of the family who are present today of our
We will not rest until we ensure that justice is done in this case. It will
remain a top agenda item in all of our conversations with the Serbian
government. I was recently in Belgrade myself. I met with the prime minister,
Deputy Prime Minister Vucic also, and made clear that in our bilateral
relations, this case as well as the burning of the embassy in 2008 remain cases
that we expect resolution and we expect justice.
CARDIN: Thank you, Mr. Yee. I will now yield to Congressman Engel, who’s our
senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the leading member
of Congress in regards to Albanian issues, which is one of the subject matters
of today’s hearing.
ENGEL: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate it and I’m just
going to ask two questions and just make a quick observation. Welcome, Mr.
Secretary. I know that your area of responsibility is now much larger than
when your predecessor held this position. With the crisis in Ukraine, it can
be difficult to sustain attention on the Balkans when things in general are
getting better. But as we all know, the State Department must not lose focus on
the Balkans region because the job’s not yet done. Bosnia and Kosovo,
Macedonia and Serbia all have serious unresolved issues and the region needs
U.S. leadership for progress to continue.
I was a long and early supporter of independence for Kosovo and I am very happy
that that independence has been achieved for some years now. But what troubles
me is that today all the Balkan states other than Kosovo are either NATO
members or in the alliance’s Partnership for Peace. I believe that Kosovo
needs a NATO pathway as well, beginning with an invitation to join the
Partnership for Peace. Quite frankly, it would be very unfair to exclude
Kosovo, one of the most pro-American, Western-oriented countries in the world.
Denying Kosovo a route to eventual NATO membership would only maintain an
island of instability and uncertainty in the region. Conversely, a Kosovo
integrated into NATO would mean a region in peace and a military configured to
fulfill alliance objectives rather than preparing to meet the challenge of
significantly better all neighbors.
So my question to you, sir, is does the United States support Kosovo joining
NATO as Partnership for Peace and will we work with our allies and friends in
the alliance to make this happen in the not too distant future? And do we
support eventual NATO membership for Kosovo as part of its Euro-Atlantic future?
YEE: Thank you, Mr. Engel. And let me begin by saying I fully agree the
Balkans need to remain very much in the forefront of U.S. foreign policy in
Europe. I have numerous colleagues who are here with me today behind me who
will make sure that that remains the case, at least in my office. I want to
say that yes, absolutely in answer to your question.
The United States government firmly supports Kosovo’s goal of joining
Partnership for Peace and eventually NATO. We work very hard to help Kosovo
make the reforms necessary in order to meet the requirements both for
Partnership for Peace and eventually for NATO. We also work closely with other
allies who have reservations about, as you mentioned, Mr. Engel, reservations
about Kosovo joining the Partnership for Peace.
We think there is a lot that Kosovo can already be doing in order to prepare
independently of the political considerations from particular allies who have
not yet recognized Kosovo. There recently has been, as you know, a security
We’ve worked very closely with Kosovo in how to reform its forces in order to
be an efficient, modern force that will be eventually able to work with NATO
members, other PFP members in a way that it will be economically sustainable,
in a way that will meet the needs of Kosovo and also be able to interact in a
useful, practical way with other countries in the region.
We work closely with allies who have not yet recognized Kosovo to convince
them, to continue trying to convince them that it’s in the best interest of the
region and of Europe as a whole to have Kosovo first and foremost a member of
the Partnership for Peace, of course also of the European Union and of NATO.
It’s far from complete. Our task is not easy in convincing those countries who
have not yet recognized Kosovo. But we remain committed to this task. We see
it as vital, absolutely vital to ensure Kosovo’s long-term sustainability and
security and prosperity, again, not only for Kosovo but for the wider region.
ENGEL: Well, thank you. I couldn’t agree more. So thank you. Let me stick
with Kosovo and say that the negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia – I’m very
pleased with the fact that both countries have understood that this is a way
for both countries to move forward. And I have been a supporter of both
countries being involved in the talks.
But despite progress with Belgrade, Kosovo still experiences major challenges,
as you mentioned, in its mission for greater EU recognition, including
economic, political integration and visa liberalization which is an important
issue. So what is the EU doing to address these crucial issues and how is the
United States playing a role in this as well?
YEE: Mr. Congressman, I agree fully on the need to continue the momentum that
has been generated by the dialogue facilitated by the EU between Serbia and
Kosovo. I think the European Union is committed to seeing this process move
forward. They’ve invested a lot of time and energy and political capital,
particularly from the high representative, Catherine Ashton, in ensuring that
not only did the two governments agree but they would really implement – they
would seriously work to implement the principles agreed in April of last year.
The EU’s first focus in helping Kosovo and Serbia in moving along the path
towards EU accession is to make the implementation process take place in a
timely fashion. In other words, not to allow either Serbia or Kosovo to rest
on the laurels of success that they’ve achieved in either through the stability
and association process or through beginning the negotiation process in
Serbia’s case, to forget about the very difficult issues that need to be
resolve in implementing the agreement, whether it’s the eliminations of
perilous strictures in the north of Kosovo or the establishment of a judicial
system that is under Kosovo law.
There are many challenges. That is I think the most important part of the EU’s
role in providing the necessary political and technical assistance in order to
keep that implementation process moving.
There’s obviously a lot of economic assistance also and the EU along with our
own USAID, thanks to support from the U.S. Congress, is providing a lot of
technical assistance in helping Kosovo make the reforms necessary, helping
building civil society in both Serbia and in Kosovo, helping both countries
develop market economies that will be more conducive to foreign investment
including from the United States.
These are all important ingredients in moving the countries forward, not only
towards accession into the EU but to a more prosperous future with jobs and
with prospects for their younger generations.
ENGEL: Well, with regards to that, Serbia, as you know, recently started its
negotiation talks with the EU. I think it’s very important that Serbia adopt
all chapters of the EU agreement, including chapter 36, which is the
implementation of the Belgrade-Pristina Agreement. Is there any concern on our
part that the calling of early parliamentary elections in Serbia scheduled for
two weeks – about two weeks, or a week and a half from now - will delay
progress on its negotiations with the EU?
YEE: Mr. Engel, I think there’s no doubt that any time there’s an election in
the Balkans, or anywhere I should say, there is a tendency to leave aside some
of the hard work that could be politically controversial and potentially
difficult for candidates to sell to their constituencies. However, the good
news is the elections take place on March 16th.
So it’s not going to be much longer. Also, I should say that it’s our
understanding from our EU colleagues and also from contacts through our
embassies in Belgrade and Pristina that the work has continued towards
implementation of the April agreement.
There is we understand another discussion, another round of talks, dialogue
talks scheduled for shortly after the elections in Serbia. So I think, yes,
there was inevitably a pause because of the election. But it’s not been a long
one and we expect the dialogue to continue and implementation to continue
shortly after elections.
ENGEL: Let me ask one final question and that involves Montenegro. Local
Albanians in a province called Tuzi have attempted to regain municipality
status since 1958. The Montenegrin Prime Minister Ðukanovic, with whom I’ve
spoken and the ambassador has been very helpful, has promised to hold a
referendum on this subject repeatedly. I understand there are ongoing
I’m told that they are about to hold a referendum. They’re about to have an
agreement. But to date, no referendum has been held. I understand some people
have raised questions about Tuzi’s financial viability. So what is the latest
you’ve heard about this issue and Tuzi and what is the U.S. doing to facilitate
a resolution that would address the longstanding quest of a local Albanian
population in Tuzi?
YEE: Mr. Engel, I will need to get back to you with the latest details and
most recent developments on that issue. I do know, as you mention, this has
been going on for some time. It was a very important issue while I was consul
general in Podgorica from 2002 to 2005. I think what’s important is to first
of all recognize that the government of Montenegro has taken the issue of
minority rights and of minority representation in the government very
And I think that’s a positive indication of its commitment to the OSCE
principles, basic human rights and also the importance of political stability
within Montenegro. I understand that there has been an ongoing negotiation
between the ethnic Albanian parties and the major majority party, DPS,
regarding the timing of when to hold a referendum and when to possibly make a
change in the status of Tuzi. But I don’t know what the latest developments
are on that and I’ll have to get back to you.
ENGEL: OK. Thank you very much. I haven’t asked a question on Albania so let
me just not do that. But let me just state that I hope that Albania, the
election that was held there, it’s always good to see peaceful transition of
parties in a democracy and I think that we can all look at the progress Albania
has made through the years and be proud of the role the United States has
played. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Appreciate your good work. Thank you, Mr.
CARDIN: It’s nice to have you here. Thank you, Mr. Engel.
YEE: Thank you, Mr. Engel.
CARDIN: Mr. Kinzinger, congressman from Illinois, it’s nice to have you here.
KINZINGER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And, sir, thank you for being here. I’m
not going to take a whole lot of time. Just had a couple of questions I wanted
to discuss, specifically Bosnia and NATO expansion, talk about Georgia right
now. So obviously with everything we’re seeing occurring around the world with
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we talk about the importance of NATO expansion.
Recently a couple of times I’ve been to Georgia. Obviously they have seen
areas occupied by the Russians. In fact, there’s a process of militarization
or borderization going on right now including the Russians pushing further into
Georgia claiming it’s for the Sochi Olympics.
And I’ll be shocked if they relinquish some of that buffer area that they’ve
created for so-called security. In light of the recent invasion, in light of
what we’re seeing in Russia, what’s your thought, what’s the administration’s
thought in terms of pressing ahead with NATO expansion in Georgia? What’s the
likelihood of that and where would be the difficulties that we see?
YEE: Well, I should preface my answer by saying that unfortunately Georgia’s
not one of the countries I cover. But I do know that there is – there is
active discussion in the U.S. government and also among other allies on how
best to help Georgia move forward in its efforts to join Euro-Atlantic
institutions. I also am aware that there is not yet consensus among allies on
the best way for Georgia to move forward, whether to have Georgia join the
Membership Action Plan, for example.
There are many considerations, as you know, Mr. Kinzinger, on the potential
impact of having Georgia join the Membership Action Plan or move forward in its
NATO track, potential implications for its relations with Russia, for example.
There is, of course, in the U.S. government no desire to appease, no desire to
compromise on Georgia’s interests with the possible implications regarding
However, it’s a reality we do need to take into consideration first and
foremost the views of our other allies since we cannot make the decision on our
own. But we continue to work with Georgia in preparing it for the types of
reforms, to help it make the kinds of reforms that would be necessary for it to
join NATO, for it to advance on that track regardless of whether it’s in the
membership action plan or not. And of course we continue to work with allies
to reach a consensus on the best way to make that happen.
KINZINGER: Yeah, I hope that over the next number of months the discussions
happening on Georgia, I hope that we can move forward in understanding.
Obviously Russia has an intention of being aggressive against its neighbors and
this is one that’s known that for far too long. What impact would the
inclusion of Georgia or the movement of Georgia towards an MAP or towards NATO
inclusion, what impact would that have on the Western Balkans and the region if
they saw that occurring?
YEE: I think the Western Balkans, as the chairman mentioned earlier in one of
our earlier questions, are definitely paying attention to what’s happening
around them and within the Balkans. It’s certainly had an impact on the people
of Bosnia-Herzegovina when they saw that Serbia and Kosovo and Montenegro and
probably in June Albania moving forward and making steps, concrete steps
towards European Union accession.
With NATO, I think if there were progress by Georgia, taking a step towards
NATO and the Membership Action Plan, I think there would be other questions
raised in a positive sense by the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina why Bosnia is
standing still, not making progress in either its EU track or NATO. So there
could be a salutary effect. At the same time, that’s obviously only one of our
We have to take into account the impact on the wider security picture in
Europe. But in direct answer to your question, I think that as more countries
move forward towards Euro-Atlantic integration, the message will be even better
underscored that those countries are not moving forward, are not only standing
still but they’re actually moving backwards.
KINZINGER: When you look at Bosnia and you look at the political leadership
and the inability to agree on even some basic constitutional reforms that have
been called for by the European Court for Human Rights, why has the
international community downgraded its presence and relinquished its powers?
YEE: Well, first, I would agree that there has not been progress towards
implementation of some of the steps the international community has been asking
Bosnia-Herzegovina to make, including with regard to implementation of the
Sejdic-Finci case, or the European Court of Human Rights decision requiring
Bosnia to modify its system of electing presidency because of discrimination
against peoples who were not members of the three major constituent peoples.
We think it’s very important that this be solved, as well as the other reforms
that the international community is asking. I would not agree, though, that
the international community has stepped back or reduced its presence. There
may be some changes in the numbers of some of our security forces. Certainly
the United States in recent years has reduced the number of forces in Bosnia.
But that has been by design.
That has been in an agreement with the European Union that European Union would
increase the number of its forces as our forces drew down. And in recognition
I think of both the aspirations of the European Union but also of the United
States to see Europe play a bigger role in assuming responsibility for security
in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Europe in general. The United States continues to
have forces in Kosovo. We continue to have very large diplomatic presences in
Sarajevo, in Pristina, in Belgrade, even in Podgorica and in all of the
countries in the Balkans.
We have relatively significant assistance programs as well. The European Union
also, as some of our aid programs have decreased, has increased its programs,
sometimes surpassing and to a large extent the assistance programs that the
United States used to have, as it should be. European Union member states also
have said they want to integrate these countries. So their presence, their
assistance should be commensurately larger than ours.
But I see no lack of commitment from the European Union, from the international
community remaining engaged in keeping open the possibility, the real
possibility for the countries of the Western Balkans to join Euro-Atlantic
institutions. And I think that will continue. And I think particular because
of recent developments elsewhere in Ukraine, other parts, we’ve all been
reminded that we cannot avert our gaze. We cannot lessen our vigilance if we
want to continue our vision, our mission of Europe whole, free and at peace.
KINZINGER: And so, your assertion is it may be a shift in power between kind
of America and the EU in terms of engagement but there’s no overall reduction
of international engagement.
YEE: That would be my assertion, yes, that there may be a reduction in some of
the numbers. Certainly our assistance money, for example, unfortunately I
would say has decreased. But the European Union has increased its level of
KINZINGER: And I have just two more areas I want to hit quickly. We were
actively engaged in previous attempts for constitutional reform in Bosnia and I
think that was a very commendable approach, didn’t obviously succeed. What are
some lessons that you think were to be learned from that experience? How can
we improve going forward, not necessarily from your end but what – I guess what
are the lessons learned in terms of what we experienced there?
YEE: I think the first lesson that we learned from previous efforts at
constitutional reform since the Dayton Accords were signed almost 20 years ago
now is that it is absolutely essential that we in the international community
and the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina hold their leaders responsible for making
the changes, making the hard decisions necessary in order to reform the
constitution and in order to move the country forward.
The international community cannot substitute for the elected leaders of
Bosnia-Herzegovina. We cannot sidestep their authority as elected leaders.
That is I think the first lesson, that if we do not have the support of the
people, if we do not have the engagement of the citizens in the reform process,
we will not succeed.
Secondly, I think we’ve learned that we absolutely need to have a united
European Union-United States effort at whatever we’re trying to achieve in
Bosnia-Herzegovina, whether it’s a particular type of reform or if it’s in
convincing political leaders they need to take a certain step. We need to be
together. And this is of course a lesson we’re seeing I other parts of Europe.
But that’s absolutely essential.
KINZINGER: OK. And I think with the recent protests and the widespread
corruption that we’re seeing, the lack of emphasis on democratic ideals, I
think it’s important that we keep reaffirming to the people that we hear them,
we know what their concerns are and we’re going to stand with them. So Mr.
Chairman, I thank you for the opportunity to participate and I yield back.
CARDIN: Well, thank you. I appreciate your participation in this hearing.
Mr. Yee, thank you very much for your testimony. We want to now move to the
second panel. We are very pleased that it consists of two distinguished
witnesses from both sides of the Atlantic. They will provide their own
independent assessment of the situation in the countries of the Western Balkan
region of Europe as well as of the United States and European policy responses.
Tanja Fajon, of Slovenia, is a journalist by profession and was elected to the
European Parliament in 2009. She has been an active as a proponent of stronger
engagement with the countries of the Western Balkans but especially with the
She is known as a champion of the visa liberalization process for those wishing
to travel to EU countries. I want to thank you particularly for coming here to
the United States, knowing full well that European Parliament elections are May
25th. You’re a brave person. We thank you. Maybe you’re seeking a little bit
of rest here. I don’t know. But it’s nice to have you here in the United
And Kurt Volker, who is the executive director of the McCain Institute for
International Leadership, which is part of the Arizona State University.
Ambassador Volker was a career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service with
over 23 years of experience working on European policies under five U.S.
administrations. And he served as the ambassador to NATO from 2008 to 2009, at
the time of the enlargement of the alliance to 28 members.
He also served as principal Deputy Assistant Ssecretary of State for European
and Eurasia Affairs. And he’s worked with the commission in the past. So it’s
a pleasure to have both of our experts here today to help us sort through the
current policy issues in the Western Balkans. We’ll start with Tanja Fajon.
FAJON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for inviting me to testify here at
this very prominent Helsinki Commission. I’m honored to talk to you in the
times that are extremely important for the European perspective of the Western
Balkan, even more so given the recent and extremely worrying developments in
Ukraine, which dominate our concerns to a great extent.
It is necessary that we preserve peace in Ukraine and in the entire region and
employ all our diplomatic means to stabilize the country, to build a united
country with respect of its sovereignty and integrity and without further even
deeper ethnic divisions. And we have to engage ourselves together through the
political dialogue and answer especially to the demands of people. But at the
same time, we must not lose our focus when it comes to engagement and interest
in the developments in the Western Balkan.
Ladies and gentlemen, this year is crucial for future developments in the
region. First of all, my testimony will be based on my personal views. As you
may already know, I have taken the leading role, as you mentioned, in the
European Parliament in making visa liberalization for Western Balkans a
reality. And throughout my mandate, I have been encouraging the governments,
both in the European Union and in the Western Balkans to engage more actively
in pursuing the enlargement agenda.
Based on its own experience, history and geography, my country, Slovenia, plays
an active role in the Western Balkans accommodating the challenges of the EU
integration. I will outline my recommendations regarding our policy in the
Western Balkans, particularly in the light of what should be expected in 2014.
Challenges are enormous because of the European elections on one hand and
national elections in several countries of the region on the other hand. And
the U.S. engagement has always been crucial in the past and it will remain
equally important in the future.
Without a common understanding of the situation and the need to act in an
appropriate, credible and unified way, without listening to the voices of
people as it was well-illustrated in Bosnia and Herzegovina recently, we might
jeopardize peace and stability in the entire region. But before going into an
in-depth analysis, allow me to share with you my personal experience as a
rapporteur of the European Parliament for visa-free travel for citizens of the
The abolishment of visas has been the most tangible achievement for the
countries of the region on their European path. It has been a great and
historical step in bringing down the walls of bloody wars. It has strengthened
political and economic cooperation and, what is of immense importance, people
to people contacts. We have to do our utmost to preserve this freedom of
travel despite some nationalistic and populistic attacks across Europe against
these recently won freedoms.
And we need to abolish visas for the last country in the Western Balkan, which
is still not on the visa-free regime, Kosovo, once it meets the necessary
condition. Needless to say, visa-free travel is crucial for ordinary citizens,
politicians and businessmen travel today without waiting in front of the
consulates and criminals usually don’t apply for visas. It is about citizens
and especially about young people. They will get to know the European values
and principles only by getting closer to Europe.
Let me start with the country I strongly believe we have to put on the very top
of our agenda in the Western Balkan. That’s Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is
still the most volatile, ethnically divided country. The Dayton Agreement
ended the war but it did not provide the legal structure for a functional
country. The February demonstrations were the most serious outburst of
violence since the war in the ’90s, people calling for change, unsatisfied with
their political elites and their personal welfare. Economic, political and
social situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is more than worrying and it urges
us to act now more than ever before.
So far, our endeavors lack political will to make a serious policy shift. We
need clear messages and consistent policies. We need an internal process which
will lead to a wide constitutional reform that can be accepted by the country
and its people. However, it cannot be externally imposed. The European Union
has to act as a facilitator. The support of its international partners is
hereby essential. Bosnia and Herzegovina needs a custom-made accession
approach. We must not focus only on Sejdic-Finci case. It should not block a
We have spent countless hours trying to forge a compromise. We should maybe
rethink our future or current policy. We need to make use of the elections in
October in Bosnia and Herzegovina to develop a new unified policy approach with
clear messages, what kind of structural reforms Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to
implement in order to join European Union. I welcome the intentions of the
European Commission to focus on better economic governance and fight against
corruption and better implementation of EU-funded projects through the
instrument for pre-accession assistance but without any additional further
And this is not enough. We need to channel the social frustration in a
positive direction, away from further ethnic divisions or state dissolution.
So far, the demonstrations showed no interethnic tensions at all but a
generally tense atmosphere ahead of the elections can easily set the stage for
violence on a much larger scale. Therefore, we need a tailored policy for the
new government after the elections in October that will help Bosnia and
Herzegovina to present new EU membership application as soon as possible,
preferably this year.
On Serbia, the country has taken important steps towards the normalization of
relations with Kosovo and the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade is
extremely positive for the people and it has opened the way for further steps
in the European integration process. But it is necessary that both sides
maintain this constructive approach while working on the controversial and very
sensitive details that still need to be elaborated and agreed upon. And there
is still need for greater transparency and communicating the outcomes of the
dialogue and involving the parliaments and civil societies. The negotiators
need to build better public trust.
And a very positive outcome of the dialogue were the elections in Kosovo. For
the first time they included Northern Kosovo and for the first time they were
in line with democratic norms. Serbia, as you know, started the accession
talks in January this year and it is committed to continue with necessary
reforms. And given the progress it achieved in the recent part, the country
has become an important player in the region in supporting and promoting
European values. And there will be early elections on the 16th of March which
we already discussed and heard about today.
On Kosovo, because of the normalizations of the relations with Serbia, the
European Union launched negotiations for SAA agreement with Kosovo and
hopefully this agreement will be signed this year although the authorities need
to make further efforts to meet the challenges of the European reform agenda
and it is expected as well that Kosovo will hold early elections in June. In
European Parliament, we have encouraged in a January resolution the remaining
five EU member states to proceed with the recognition of Kosovo and we have
called on all EU member states to their utmost to facilitate economic and
people-to-people contacts as well as social and political relations between
their citizens and citizens of Kosovo.
I visited Pristina two weeks ago and held a press conference in Brussels two
days ago, so a day before yesterday, and I reemphasized the importance of the
visa-free travel for the people of Kosovo. There will be an expert mission in
Kosovo next week evaluating its readiness and I do expect that the commission
will publish its report without further delay.
On Macedonia, as I’m coming from Slovenia, unfortunately there is not much to
say. The EU has decided for the fifth year not to open the accession
negotiations with the country in spite of the positive recommendation of the
commission and of the European Parliament in this respect. And there is
growing frustration about the EU in the public opinion. I strongly support the
idea that the bilateral issues between Macedonia and Greece should be resolved
before the end of the accession process.
But they should not present an obstacle to the opening of the negotiations.
And a further delayed process poses a considerable risk to the regional
stability. I hope that Greece will use its EU presidency to create a positive
environment. But still, it takes two to tango and it seems that no side is
capable and ready to develop new initiatives to overcome the current stalemate
on the name issue.
There will be the presidential elections coming and early parliamentary
elections. It is difficult to believe that there will be a good atmosphere to
find a solution. In any case, all the gestures, controversial actions and
statements which could negatively impact on good neighbor relations should be
On Montenegro, it seems to have least problems among the Western Balkan
countries. It still shows broad enthusiasm for entering the European Union.
Two chapters have been provisionally closed – fight against corruption and
organized crime and judicial reform remain top priority as for all of the
countries of the Western Balkans. But nevertheless, I want to use this
opportunity to once again express my deep shock and concern about at least two
bomb attacks and around half a dozen physical attacks against journalists in
the recent past. I’ve called on the responsible authorities in the country
several times to protect journalists and adequately investigate and prosecute
all these attacks and threats.
Albania has a new government after the June parliamentary elections and it has
improved its reputation significantly after an orderly conducted and peaceful
transfer of power. This new government has an ambitious European agenda and
significant progress has already been made in the first hundred days of its
Therefore, I do expect that the EU Council in June will grant Albania a
candidate status. It is also true that the political climate in the country
must be improved. But delaying the granting of candidate status would mean to
risk the momentum for further progress in democratic development of the
country. And we must not forget that the country has been the most isolated
country of the Western Balkans in the past.
And let me conclude with a few final remarks. First, despite the economic and
social crisis in Europe, the enlargement of the European Union towards the
Western Balkans countries must remain our priority. The political situation in
the region is still very fragile. In particular, Bosnia and Herzegovina shows
varying signs of instability. And peace and stability of the region is our
common strategic interest. With the support of the United States and its
international partners, the European Union must lead a unified, comprehensive
policy approach toward the Western Balkans.
We must be capable to shift our policy approach when needed. The economic
crisis has hit the Western Balkans very hard. Europe and the United States
should seek opportunities for more investments in the Western Balkans.
European Union institutions and the governments need to make use of this year,
the year of European elections, to fight nationalism and extremism in the
region. Otherwise, it will jeopardize the European integration process. A
credible European Union policy towards the Western Balkan demands in-depth
understanding of the history of these countries, different political and
economic situations, involvement of local authorities, NGOs, experts and the
And last, the Brdo Process launched by Slovenia and Croatia has the potential
to become a strong engine of political and overall development in the region.
The July summit of the Brdo Process with French Prime Minister Hollande was a
historical event for the region which set the fundaments for a fruitful common
initiative and a successful story of the region. The next summit of the Brdo
Process will take place in Croatia in July with Chancellor Angela Merkel
already confirmed the participation. Thank you for this opportunity.
CARDIN: Well, thank you very much for your testimony. Ambassador Volker?
VOLKER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is an honor for me to be here. I have a
written statement I’d like to put into the record and I’ll just summarize my
CARDIN: Your written statement – all written statements - will be made part of
our record, yes.
VOLKER: Thank you. Thank you. I want to start by commending you for having
this hearing to focus on the Western Balkans. It’s easy to get lost in the
fray. And I think it’s good that we do that. So thank you for doing that. I
also want to commend you for your comments on Ukraine. You’ve heard excellent
statements from Deputy Assistant Secretary Yee and from Ms. Fajon. So what
I’d like to do is offer maybe a slightly broader perspective on the issue.
In my view, any discussion today about the Balkans really doesn’t start with
Sarajevo or Pristina but perhaps needs to start with Crimea. What we’ve seen
in Europe in the past week and a half is the use of military force to invade a
country, to occupy part of it, change borders by force perhaps. Really the
gravest threat to democracy, freedom and security in Europe that we’ve seen in
the last 25 years.
We’ve spent 25 years supporting the rights of people in Central and Eastern
Europe to determine their own future, to build democracies, to build market
economies, to build security. NATO membership and EU membership have been a
means toward that end. And it has been remarkably successful.
I think that nothing can excuse what Yanukovych has done in Ukraine or what
Putin has done now by having this quasi-invasion of Ukraine. But I do think
that there is a factor here which has been complacency and perhaps some
disengagement on the part of the West, Europe, the United States, that you
can’t blame for these conditions but nonetheless should have had a more
proactive policy of supporting reform and supporting the momentum towards
really building a Europe whole, free and at peace. I’m afraid that that’s what
I see in the Balkans as well, a little bit of complacency, a little bit of
insufficient engagement from the leaders of the European Union, from NATO, from
the United States.
We have wonderful members of the European Parliament who are engaged. But I
think we need to have a more proactive policy because when it’s not there, the
darker forces rise to the surface and create conditions that make it harder to
make progress. And we’ve seen this in Eastern Europe but I’m afraid we do see
it at times in the Balkans as well.
So in that context, I think it is important that we redouble our efforts to
bring about and promote the right kinds of reform in the Balkans and to use the
prospects of NATO and EU membership aggressively in order to encourage the
right reforms and to cement the movement of those societies in a direction that
is in the best interests of the people there at their own choosing as well as
in the best interest of Europe as a whole. With that as a background, let me
give a little specifics about some of the countries there.
Start with Montenegro, it’s come up earlier today. Certainly Montenegro has
more work to do in terms of political reform, judiciary, dealing with crime,
dealing with Russian influence. But let’s face it. Other countries had work
to do when they joined NATO and the EU as well. And I think we’re at a time
now where it’s time to extend an invitation to Montenegro at the 2014 summit in
the U.K. And then progress shouldn’t stop there. We should continue to have
expectations for reform and development in Montenegro.
The second one is Macedonia. Likewise, I think it is shameful that the name
issue has been a block to progress in Macedonia and a block to progress in the
wider Balkans region. It serves no one’s interest. It is not in Greece’s
economic interest to have a Balkan region that is held back by keeping a
country away from NATO or EU membership. Moreover, having spent a lot of time
with people from both sides of this question, I’m convinced that there is a
solution to the name issue, that it can be done as a win-win for both countries
and should be an opportunity to move on.
I do however believe that requires a context of U.S. leadership and European
leadership to help those countries get to that win-win solution. I think it
can be done. And again, I think it should be done using the September 2014,
NATO summit as a target. And that invitation could therefore be extended to
Macedonia as well.
To move on to other countries, it’s come up before on Bosnia and I’d like to
address a point you asked in a question, what needs to be done. I think it’s
high time – it’s past time that we have a Dayton II effort to really put the
governing issues of Bosnia on the table. They can only be agreed by the
Bosnians themselves. But they need the context of U.S. and European leadership
to create a framework in which that kind of negotiation can take place.
In the absence of changes to the Dayton framework that currently exists, we see
a political and governing structure that reinforces ethnic nationalism, that
paralyzes governance, that rewards the politicians who bring some of the worst
elements to the table in domestic politics. We need to try to push beyond
I want to commend High Representative Catherine Ashton for her work on Serbia
and Kosovo. I think that has made substantial progress. I don’t see that
we’re going to have major new breakthroughs. But I think further practical
steps should be encouraged and should be supported.
And then one final word I’d like to put in about democracy generally. NATO and
EU membership are not an endpoint in themselves. They’re a means to an end.
The real end is societies that respect human rights, that protect minorities,
that function democratically, that build prosperity for the citizens, that are
stable, secure and contribute to a good neighborhood in the Euro-Atlantic
And NATO and EU are powerful tools on that road but they’re not an endpoint.
And even for countries that have already joined NATO and the EU, there is often
a lot of work yet to do. And we see that with some examples in the Balkans,
some examples in Central Europe, some examples, frankly, in Western Europe.
And so it’s a continuing effort to try to build the right kind of societies.
We shouldn’t hold NATO and EU out there as a final endpoint after everything
has been done but rather to try to use those institutions and those memberships
as ways to further promote progress in building a Europe whole, free and at
peace, as we have done for the past 25 years. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I
look forward to your questions.
CARDIN: Well, let me thank both of you for your contributions to this hearing.
And I can tell you, we are going to maintain our focus in this region. We are
very proud of what has been done but we know there’s still progress that needs
to be made. And we have to balance very carefully the importance of
internally-driven solutions but within the context of the international
expectations, particularly with Europe and the United States. That’s our
I want to start with a question on a subject we haven’t really covered as well.
And that is that there are human rights concerns. You mention in your
testimony the safety of journalists. The secretary mentioned the corruption
issues within the Balkans. Our TIP report shows significant need for progress
on trafficking. Can you just share with us your observations as to whether –
at what stage these countries are prepared to improve governance and respect
for human rights?
FAJON: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for this very important question,
human rights. Of course, I will start from the perspective of what is
happening in the regard of visa-free travel because what we are seeing is that
a lot of people, especially representatives of the minorities coming from Roma
society, are leaving their countries coming from Serbia, from Macedonia or from
Bosnia and Herzegovina. And this is one of the greatest concerns, how to
ensure a safe environment, the reintegration for this most volatile part of the
And certainly the governments are doing a lot. They are in a constant dialogue
with Brussels, what is possible to improve the situation. But we have to be
aware that we are talking about very difficult economic conditions of the
countries where on one hand we have more and more people living on the edge of
poverty. And it’s difficult even to blame people who are trying to find better
life in the western part of Europe, going to search there for asylum or jobs or
citizenship. And it’s something we have to tackle very seriously.
What is my concern is when I see that people are often misled as well to use
the freedom of travel and they often sell all their properties by certain
agencies or criminal networks to get the free ticket to Europe and then finally
they find themselves in the illegal situation or they are sent back.
So when we discuss about the human rights violation or discrimination, we have
growing concern what is happening with those people stopped on the borders
because countries, of course, in the region try to prevent abuses of visa-free
regime. So we have to ensure that people who are coming from different
background or belonging to Roma population or other minorities, that they don’t
face any discriminatory rules.
Certainly we have to have constant monitoring of the situation. We are doing
everything as well in the European Parliament to help the governments, as well
with the fundings because it’s an extremely difficult economic situation, most
part of the region and to try to ensure that human rights are respected to a
CARDIN: Thank you. Mr. Ambassador?
VOLKER: Mr. Chairman, thank you. First, I share your concern about human
rights in the region and more generally. I would observe that human rights in
the region, while there are challenges, as you mention and as Ms. Fajon
mentioned, they are better than they have been and they are better than they
might be. So we have still a window here where the Balkans has produced some
progress. I think the reason that it is not as much progress as we want is
because of some of these larger forces that I described. It allows corruption
to be an easy way out.
It allows criminality to go a little too far. It creates legal systems and
judiciary systems that are vulnerable to the extent that these countries are
not firmly on a track into the right institutions with the right kinds of
engagement and pressure over a long period. I think that it is worthy of the
European Union and the United States to continue to put pressure on human
rights on every case that comes up, whether it’s journalists or corruption or
unresolved murders, as was brought up. Those things are important. And at the
same time, we should also keep pressing the engagement with NATO and the
European Union and using all the tools at our disposal to bring these countries
in because it’s only with leaders with the incentives in front of them to clean
up corruption, to take a harder track on crime, to fix judiciaries that are
really going to tackle these problems in the long run.
CARDIN: You know, you get basically one shot at this on their transition, to a
country’s transition to Europe. Once they’re members, the leverage is nowhere
near as direct or strong. And it seems to me that we have pretty specific
expectations on some of the governance issues as it relates to democratic
institutions and centralized control of central institutions of government
including the military. That’s pretty well-defined, what is expected.
On the human rights front, it becomes a little bit more difficult at times to
get that specific with changes, particularly with corruption because corruption
is not as easy to define as you resolve the problems in your country. We have
pretty good information on trafficking. We can, I think, be pretty specific as
to what we expect, improvements there on the safety of journalists, on there’s
pretty good information on that.
Roma populations, minority populations are very challenging. As you point out,
the economic issues but there’s always justifications by pointing to what’s
happening in Western Europe or other areas to say we are using dual standards.
So there is a problem with the Roma populations and other minorities that we
have to do a better job in demanding progress to be made.
So I think your testimonies are very helpful in that regard and I’m glad we had
a chance to talk about it. I just want to follow up on your point about
people-to-people. I couldn’t agree with you more. It seems to me
people-to-people is how changes are taking place. When I was in Bosnia, I
think my best meeting was with the students. When I was in China, my best
meeting is with the students.
They are the only group of people from whom I heard something different. You
know, they’re really very inquisitive and interested in what was going on in
the West and very interested in getting their views across. And we had a great
debate. In Bosnia, we see the popular expressions on the streets because of
their frustration but it’s also refreshing to see that the people get it. How
do you translate that to the leaders?
Of course, that’s part of democracy, how that comes about. And that’s going to
be our challenge moving forward. Let me just ask the question in regards to
Bosnia to both of you. We’ve heard a lot of the challenges that they have. In
your view, what does Bosnia need to do? What would be their priorities for
change in order to accelerate a Membership Action Plan for NATO and application
FAJON: Thank you for this actually extremely difficult question because it
demands firstly understanding of the situation that in the last few years in
Bosnia and Herzegovina we haven’t really seen any progress. We have seen many
commitments or promises they were given by the political elites in the country.
But they were never fulfilling them, especially when it comes to all the
points on the European agenda, to the case of Sejdic-Finci, to the coordination
mechanism and so on.
And most probably what we’ve seen with the manifestations and demonstrations on
the streets in the recent past, it’s somehow the mirror of the society, of what
is happening in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the dissatisfaction with the political
elite. And recently, as you may know, the commissioner for the enlargement
simply gave up the facilitation with Sejdic-Finci talks with the political
leaders. It seems that we have to start rethinking our policy when we discuss
with the political leaders of the countries maybe where we have to bring it to
the level of the institutions.
But seriously, we have to make the pressure. And I’m very happy to see that
the society actually actively engaged finally to bring the voice on the streets
in a peaceful way to demand the changes of the country. I cannot prejudge what
the elections will bring in October. But certainly corruption is a very big
problem in the country.
And we have to tackle with the agenda to bring the country closer, to help them
with the European reforms and to really continue engaging all the political
forces in the country to be united and not only work the politicians in the
country for their ethnic community but for the whole country as united. And
this is what is lacking in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And of course a proactive
approach of European society with United States and international partners has
to be much stronger.
And how to achieve that? We are not really bringing the solutions but trying
to facilitate, to find a solution, it is probably the most demanding challenge
ahead of us. But we should use this momentum now when we have people who are
actively engaging and to include the civil society and the experts in the
discussion on the future perspective of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
CARDIN: That’s very helpful. Thank you. Ambassador?
VOLKER: Thank you. if I could address a couple of points that you’ve raised,
one of them is just to recall when I served in Hungary or when I was at the
National Security Council, we were very proactive with interagency teams
working with interagency teams from each of the candidate countries, developing
lists of things that needed to be fixed in order for us to be comfortable
offering an invitation to join NATO. Slovenia was a great example as well.
Some of these required very difficult decisions on the part of countries. But
they believed that we were serious, that at the end of the road there would be
a membership invitation and that this would come out of NATO and eventually the
EU. And so, they made some tough decisions. You’re right that once it’s done
it’s harder to exercise influence.
But in that process, a lot can be done. I have a feeling that the countries
today don’t believe we’re serious, that we’re not trying to get to that
outcome. And so, the pressure is less there for the leaders to make some tough
decisions and clean up some things that need to be cleaned up. That comes to
your question about Bosnia. The Membership Action Plan was meant to be a tool
on the path to a country being ready to become a member. So we don’t expect
everything to be done. We expect to use the Membership Action Plan for that
purpose. You do need an interlocutor and this is where in Bosnia in particular
the lack of an effective central government authority, particularly exercising
control of the military and military installations and depots, is a problem.
It doesn’t give us the effective interlocutor that we really want to have.
I think to get there, we probably should be just, as has been done during the
course of this administration and they’ve been focused on this, work to get the
central authorities in the strongest position possible to deal with the
security issues, to make them an effective interlocutor for NATO.
And then in parallel we do have to work on these bigger structural, political
issues in Bosnia that will hopefully create different governing conditions that
– what you have now is gridlock in the center and the Republika Srpska or other
more local political actors running the show for their own benefit. We need to
have a stronger central authority that functions governing a country while
respecting the regional differences within the country.
CARDIN: I think that’s very helpful. I agree. It’s responsibility on both
parties. It seems to me Europe and the United States, NATO need to be very
clear about their timelines on membership so that there is clear understanding.
I think there’s been some mixed signals sent. But clearly the principal
responsibility is with the country to be very serious about the reforms. The
reforms are important for transition into Europe.
But they’re also important for the security of the country itself and their
future democratic commitments. So I think it’s a dual responsibility here.
But I think we could give a clearer message which would be helpful to get the
serious progress made on a realistic time schedule. Let me again thank both of
you for your testimony. And with that, the commission will stand adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 11:33, the hearing ended.]