Ministers debate way to bind former Yugoslavia


EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels today are due to debate a new regional, Balkan approach to the problems of former Yugoslavia. The British and EU special representative, Mr Carl Bildt, are proposing that EU support for reconstruction and trade will depend on the expansion of contacts and joint projects between the former warring parties.

Officials believe that a carrot and stick regional approach can provide powerful financial incentives to reconciliation in much the way they are advocating strengthening weak intra regional trade in the Middle East as a means of breaking gown historical barriers.

Diplomats said the fundamental aim of the drive to encourage good neighbourliness was to try to make it physically and, ultimately, emotionally impossible for war to break out again by binding the region together and tying it into Europe. The rationale, they say, is similar to that which led to the foundation of the EU.

Ministers' concerns will also be more short term, however. While international pledges in December for immediate aid for Bosnia totalled some £500 million, it appears that only some £62.5 million has actually been forthcoming in cash, and that, from the EU. There are fears that a second pledging conference - scheduled for April - may turn into a fiasco.

Member states with large refugee populations from former Yugoslavia, such as Germany and Austria, will also be seeking a discussion of how the delicate issue of their repatriation can be handled as soon as possible.

Over lunch the ministers are expected to debate the dispute in the Aegean between Greece and Turkey. Although willing to express general sympathy with a fellow member, all Greece's partners will refuse to be drawn into a statement of the legal merits of its case beyond saying that it should be decided at an international legal forum. They are likely to urge Turkey to press its case to the World Court.

But Greece is likely to hear of the strong frustration of the 14 at its decision to maintain a block on a £300 million financial package for Turkey agreed by the Council last June. The aid is part of compensation for the cost to the country of a customs union agreement with the EU. EU officials fear that Greece's refusal to allow "the Union to move forward in its "relations with Turkey may lead to the unravelling of political agreements on such issues as Cyprus accession talks.

Another thorny issue today is likely to be agreement on a mandate for talks on a free trade agreement with South Africa, also agreed in principle last June but being held up by what is seen as protectionist French objections.

Paris complains that the Commission has been unable to guarantee that there will be no knock on legal effects in the World Traded Organisation from a South African deal. And they warn the EU, that it is undermining the possibility of global multilateral trade deals with its proliferation of bilateral agreements around the world.