COMMENT: Yugoslavia Misses European Train

Internal political battles deprive Yugoslavia of chance to join Council of

COMMENT: Yugoslavia Misses European Train

Internal political battles deprive Yugoslavia of chance to join Council of

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

By Jovan Teokarevic in Belgrade (BCR No. 382, 14-Nov-02)

Yugoslavia has again missed the chance to join the Council of Europe, CoE,

after Serb and Montenegrin politicians failed to agree on a constitutional

charter containing the principles intended to define a new joint state.

At odds are two irreconcilable political concepts. The serious nature of

these differences can be seen by the fact that political elites in both

republics appear ready to jeopardise their reintegration into the

international community to achieve victory.

The conflict superficially concerns the seemingly banal matter of the

election of deputies to the federal parliament. This was why the

constitutional charter was not adopted as expected on November 7.

The Montenegrin side, influenced by the pro-independence orientation of

President Milo Djukanovic, opposes direct election of deputies and wants

delegates to be appointed by Montenegro's parliament.

Underlining this position is Djukanovic's concept of the republic as the

centre of power, leaving the joint state with Serbia as a union of states that

won’t impede Montenegro's eventual passage towards independence.

Direct voting would give the federation real legitimacy, making it the stronger entity.

Following his convincing victory in the Montenegrin parliamentary elections

on October 20, Djukanovic signalled that though separation from Serbia might

be on hold it would not be abandoned as a goal.

The president (soon to be premier) said his government

would prove Montenegro "can solve all its own difficulties, [after which]

tension will decline, and talks over Montenegro's independence will be

calmer. I still strongly believe independence both for Montenegro and Serbia

is the logical epilogue to the process of ex-Yugoslavia's dissolution".

He is opposed in Belgrade by Yugoslav president Vojislav

Kostunica and his followers and by pro-federation Montenegrin politicians.

Brussels is closer to Kostunica’s preference for a strong union between Serbia and Montenegro

; the EU's external relations commissioner, Javier Solana, recently said the new entity must form a "functional state, meaning one state".

In the background is Serbia's reformist premier Zoran Djindjic. His pragmatic standpoint inclines more towards Djukanovic than to Kostunica. But he also wants to postpone solutions to disputed

issues and adopt the charter urgently, as it is the precondition for enacting the reforms he advocates and which depend on rapid admission to the CoE.

Djukanovic's group has less interest in adopting the charter, a tendency

shared by elements within Djindjic's ruling Democratic Opposition of Serbia,

DOS, coalition. Because of the dominant role of the parliaments of their

respective republics, both these groups want the privilege of appointing

deputies, instead of direct election.

In the meantime, other disputes are fuelling the basic conflict between two

blocs, for example whether the charter is a contract between two sovereign

states, as Djukanovic says, or a classical constitution, which is

Kostunica's position.

The EU, which has long opposed independence for Montenegro, was

the driving force behind last March's signing of the Belgrade Agreement.

The March deal gave the two republican parliaments and the federal

assembly until June to adopt a constitutional charter. In the end, the June

deadline was set aside and a new one set for the end of August, which in

turn was exceeded.

Aside from the action of irresponsible politicians, the Belgrade Agreement itself has

become the source of much confusion and misunderstanding. Many provisions

are poorly defined and contradictory, leaving room for totally different

interpretations. The accord also lacks popular legitimacy. Adopted by a small

circle of people acting under foreign pressure, it could easily be

disputed in future by a new governing elite.

Since the accord was signed, the work of the joint Montenegrin-Serbian

committee charged with adopting the charter has progressed in a generally

scandalous fashion. No one, neither the experts, nor the general public,

even knows what is written in the articles of the charter.

In spite of this, the good will of the CoE ensured that the

parliamentary wing of the organisation supported an end-of-September

admission for Yugoslavia. Its ministerial committee was told to approve

the admission as soon as agreement on the charter was reached, whether or

not it was adopted in the respective republican parliaments.

The level of good will displayed by the international community was

reflected in the reaction of the EU, which has promised speedier

integration in exchange for finishing the charter. For Yugoslavia, European integration

is a precondition for further reforms.

For all countries, membership of the CoE has symbolic

importance as international confirmation that they observe minimum

democratic standards. In Yugoslavia's case more is in question. Because of

the sanctions imposed in the 1990s and Belgrade's virtual pariah status,

membership signifies the final normalisation of relations with the outside


The price of membership of the international community is one that the

authorities are ready to pay. In the case of the CoE, it involves total cooperation with The Hague

war crimes tribunal, honouring human and minority rights and civilian control of the army and police.

Membership of the CoE is also required before the country can join

NATO's Partnership for Peace programme and for strategically the most

important integration process - signing a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU.

There is no doubt that pressure from Brussels to adopt the constitutional

charter will be sufficiently strong to force an eventual agreement. But if - or rather when - it materialises, there is little optimism that the new state will function properly.

The new entity has already been dubbed the "Frankenstein

state". With no common customs, taxation system, or currency, it will take a

miracle to preserve it for more than a few years. The Belgrade Agreement

says that the republics can slate referendums on independence after

three years.

Until then, Yugoslavia can expect more of the same: misunderstandings and

conflicts, institutional chaos and a snail pace reforms.

Jovan Teokarevic is Research Fellow at the Institute for European Studies,


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