Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy “czar”, has enough on her plate – she can only handle a morsel of Balkan food. She showed up late at the meeting, left early and put Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle in charge of the press conference. Her speech at the plenary was, to quote someone present in the room, “the most empty of content of all around the table.”
The truth is that the EU is most likely to sit on its hands until there is another crisis, and then moves towards accession will look even more problematic. As so often in Balkan history, timing is against the region. They are applying for membership at a time of very weak political will for European-level action on anything. All is not over. The Enlargement Commissioner will need proposals to put in his Strategy Paper later in the year and I have yet to see better ones than what I suggested. One thing that did seem to come out of the meeting was the idea or a Balkan envoy a la the US envoy in the Middle East George Mitchell.
Few people are better equipped for such an assignment than Paddy Ashdown. CoffeeHouse readers know I have a soft spot for the ex-Marine, but his energy, experience in and commitment to the region as well as links in London, Washington, Brussels and other European capitals make him a far better candidate than the other names likely to enter the fray. The usual suspects can be expected to protest, drawing caricatures of his tenure in Bosnia.
There are bound to be other solid candidates for such an assignment, but none can be assured of the support of the likes of David Cameron, Joe Biden and Catherine Ashton. None have Lord Ashdown’s track record and none have his pan-European cache. If European governments want to keep a close eye on the region and ensure that progresses continues, they could not do better than ask Lord Ashdown to down to the Balkans again. Whether he would be up for it, who knows?