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The Patten Letter


Letter from European Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten - apparently leaked to the Montenegrin paper Vijesti and published on September 10 - heralding the European Union’s new strategy for Serbia and Montenegro.

The letter, sent in mid-July to the chair of the EU Ministerial Council and Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot and EU representative for foreign and security policy Javier Solana, presented Patten’s idea about a new approach to the process of association of Serbia and Montenegro with the European Union according to which the two state union entities should take separate economic tracks.

There have been various interpretations of the letter in the media, ranging from initial denials that the letter exists at all to distorted explanations of its purpose.

My dear minister,

I know that you will visit Belgrade this week so I wanted exchange views with you and Javier [Solana], who will receive a copy of this letter, on the direction in which our policy towards the state union of Serbia and Montenegro may develop. At the moment, the state union is not functioning well. This is not only about the harmonisation of customs duties for 56 agricultural products. There is also the need to harmonise tariffs and taxes levied on an assortment of other products. We simply cannot conduct trade negotiations – which SAA [Stabilisation and Association Agreement] in a broader sense is – without prior agreement between the two republics on these matters. Despite discussions over the past two years on these issues, there has been no indication that an agreement between Belgrade and Podgorica is in the offing. Technically, these are not complicated things. We are talking here about political will.

I cannot in all honesty say that Serbia is right in this matter and Montenegro is not, although [Montenegrin prime minister Milo] Djukanovic has not shown any interest in reaching an agreement. Be that as it may, on many occasions we have tried to send a strong message to Podgorica. This is what I have recently done. They seem to have no impact at all. More importantly, the ongoing dialogue last week in Podgorica showed there were far-reaching differences surrounding a whole set of other issues requiring an agreement between the two republics. Take for example the fact that the whole issue of the state union's application for membership in the WTO [World Trade Organisation] has been totally blocked. Now there are serious doubts whether direct elections for the state union's parliament will take place next March as planned. If this does not come to pass, the parliament will become totally dysfunctional.

Javier will have ample opportunity to learn that my teams and the delegation in Belgrade have been tirelessly working doing everything in their power to resolve these problems, but we are simply not making any progress. I am increasingly more concerned about the impact of such a situation on the stability in Serbia. Pro-European reformists have nothing to show to their voters, which perhaps is linked to the unpleasantly high score of 45 per cent of the vote for [Serbian Radical Party member Tomislav] Nikolic in the recent presidential election. Fortunately, Boris Tadic managed to win in the end. However, the current minority government is unstable and may not last for much longer. We desperately need to move Serbia forward while we can before the prospects of new parliamentary election bring the political process once again to a grinding halt.

I think we should urgently reconsider the reform of the state union, which would keep it intact at least until the revision of the Constitutional Charter, and yet it would give a chance to Serbia, in particular, to make progress in the Stabilisation and Association Process without any blockade. I believe a double-track approach to the SAA which would allow for the state union president [Svetozar] Marovic, foreign affairs minister [Vuk] Draskovic and defence minister [Prvoslav] Davinic to keep their posts, would achieve both objectives. This would make the solution to the Serbia's problem with the Tribunal more likely to happen because they would be rewarded for that. Since the state union would still be in existence, this would not interfere with the international community's timeline for the solution to the Kosovo's final status. The only thing that we would do is to recognise that the efforts to harmonise two economies cannot succeed; this is reality anyway.

I understand that this idea introduces a significant change to our current policy, but I believe the time has come to reconsider this seriously. It is clear to me that president Marovic and president Tadic, both of them the advocates for the preservation of the state union, see in this idea many advantages. The next Gymnich [semi-annual informal meeting of EU members’ foreign ministers] might be a good opportunity for foreign affairs ministers to review this whole issue.

Yours, Chris

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