The bridge of contention

Courtesy of Al Jazeera Balkans

When I decide to start this blog and recalling the famous Andrić’s quote on bridges, I surely didn’t have in mind the monstrous Croatian project to connect its two mainland parts.

I am talking about a well known issue to Balkanologists, which has been recently brought up to the major media by SETimes.

The project of the bridge

What is the role of the EU in this inter-States issue?
As we all know, Croatia is about to become the 28th EU Member State, further expanding the borders of the Union, actually taking Slovenia’s place as the last EU “stronghold” before “No man’s land”.
As reported by SETimes, Croatia is willing to use the cohesion fund to finance a project which might hamper Bosnia and Hercegovina rightful access to the sea. It is my belief that the creation of a bridge to physically (and politically) “skip” BiH would not help neither Bosnia, nor Croatia and especially will harm the reconciliation process in the area. And lurch EU’s reputation in BiH (if needed…).

First of all, the United Nations Convention on the law of the see (Montego Bay)  apparently does not provide any lawful ground for an arbitrated settlement of the dispute. The territorial sea of BiH is entirely encircled by the internal sea of Croatia, thus creating an unprecedented case. Furthermore, as immediately noted down by Mladen Klemencic “Bosnia-Hercegovina does not have any port facilities on its strip of coast, all transportation will be directed to the nearest Croatian port of Ploce”. As we know, there is no theoretical right of peaceful passage in internal waters, unless bilater/multilateral agreements among States regulate such manner. However, since the project forecasts the construction of a bridge over the sea strip right in front of Bosnian territorial sea, it might be argued that the project would harm BiH rights to access high sea. Apart from fascinating legal theoretical rumination, it is clear that the only long term solution shall be based on a political, negotial agreement.

And here it comes the role of the EU.

Although BiH’s chances to join the Union in the medium term are proximal to 0%, in the unfortunate case the EU shall sponsor the bridge project, it will clearly further undermine its image, presenting a picture of EU as a “big brother”, willing to support who’s joining the club at the expenses of other, weaker States. Fortunately, it seems that DG REGIO Commissioner Hahn did not discuss any EU’s participation in the creation of the bridge. For now.

Even if the Commission will maintain a distant position from the project, it is clear that Croatia will do everything in its power to implement the infrastructure. It is necessary to find a more sustainable solution to the issue, bearing in mind the regional cooperation. I have passed through Neum more than once. Any traveller willing to reach Montenegro or Dubrovnik from Trieste will experience the unfortunate misadventure of crossing far too many borders. My love and passion for the Balkans, paired with a couple of coffees and the usual “traveling coma” typical of any Balkan busses customer, helped me sustaining the consequences of this ridiculous case of international law of the sea.

How to solve this issue? In my opinion the best solution would be an extraterritorial highway through Neum. Nothing new under the sun: extraterritorialities are common instruments in the hand of wise politicians to connect States. Given the lack of know how and the difficulties in finding resources from the Bosnian side, both States might find this solution profitable from the purely economic perspective. In fact, the construction of a high way shall result cheaper than then bridge, allowing travelers to shorten their trip.

Such a solution, however, lies on a broader normalisation of the relationship between BiH and Croatia. I humbly believe that 23km of Bosnian coasts are useless without dock facilities and clear and reliable access to the Mediterranean. Given the rightful and unquestionable Bosnian sovereignty over Neum municipality, it is necessary to find a common solution to what is, in fact, a common problem. Ideally speaking, BiH could offer part of Neum territory to be internationalised , in exchange of partial exploitation of Ploce port, based on an international agreement with Croatia. In this way, Bosnian rights over Neum coastline will be preserved, guaranteeing  the fruitful use of Ploce and allowing Croatia to build the highway within the extraterritorial regime hitherto created. Goods shall freely move from Ploce to Neum and from Neum to the rest of BiH without major delays. In the same way, Croatia would finally link Southern Dalmatia with the rest of the country.
The construction of the bridge is pointless and dangerous for two main reasons. The first is of a purely practical matter: in the moment Bosnia will join the EU and/or agreements regarding the permeability of the Croatian/Bosnian border shall enter into force, the bridge will be de facto useless. Furthermore, we shall keep in mind the volume of transports in the region, which, in my experience, do not justify the creation of such an expensive infrastructure. The second reason concerns political strategy and neighboring relations. Croatian attempt to build the bridge represents a brutal show off of political and economic power, which in the end denotes a politically obtuse and obsolete behaviour. Without undermining the importance of reconciliation, Zagreb and Sarajevo shall look at the bridge case as a chance to practically overcome nationalistic disputes, demonstrating political maturity and wise management of State resource.

In the end, the bridge case is one of the nth chances the Balkans have to show to the outer world (and demonstrate to themselves) that reconciliation is possible, necessary and it is not economically impossible (especially in the fields of common infrastructures).
Honestly, however, I do not expect a sustainable solution of the matter.

From your own correspondent in Bruxelles: first chapter sent

Some says that the first chapter of your thesis is the most difficult to write down. I disagree.

Not just because I love writing, and I love writing about the topic of my thesis (and ergo I love my thesis), but also because it is much harder to find a way to capitalize your writing effort, and make it worth.

I have the impression that for how much energy I might put in my writings, this won’t change much in my future. I am aware that Bruxelles “working environment” it’s not really sensitive to hardcore, mind-blowing, concerned MA thesis, especially if written by a (not so) young Italian wannabe anthropologist. This however does not change the amount of time I spend every day to work on it.

Some others might contest that the value of a thesis relies in its scientific arguments, not in the effort the student put in it. I would really like to find someone willing to sit down and pass through my thesis with a scientific eye. This would be already and achievement.

To be honest, I have found someone. My beloved friends are supporting my editing, helping me polishing the thesis, providing an incalculable added value.
I have also hell of a good “supervisors team”.

But I somehow am sure that, out there, there will be very few people interested in an anthropological criticism of the enlargement policy.
Since I believe it is extremely useful, I am considering the idea of voluntarily (and freely) send it to our Commissioner Füle, once it will be ready.

Maybe this might not be the right approach, but lately I paid to much attention to the so called “right approach” than to the content of the message I was delivering.

It’s time to go look back at contents rather than shape.

From your own correspondent from Brussels – 1: preparing the first interview

In some days I will have the chance to interview an important international official in the city of Brussels.
For all the interviews I will attend during my research period I am not reporting neither the name of the interviewed nor the institution the interviewed belongs to.

So what else you might find interesting in this blog section?
Yesterday, discussing with a friend about video games, we found out to perceive the same disappointment for nowadays gaming production: the graphics are amazing, it is extremely easy to set up a multiplayer game (and thus to interact with friends and beat them…), but nowadays games (and gamers) lack of “strategy“, of “thinking“, of the “human touch” you could give to your army while playing games like Roma Total War, or similar. Everything is to quick, to fast, direct to the point, missing all the surrounding halo of entertainment, of thinking that an old pixel-style strategy game would give to the mighty patient player of the ’90.

News universe (and, at last, also the diffusion of cultural informations) works pretty much in the same way: if the message is not violent, direct, shocking, it is hard for it to be read by anyone.

This post is not about reminiscences of the past, neither about nostalgia of ’90 video games (I keep on playing those video games…).
This post wishes to warn that you will not find names and revelations about the hidden “bottom-rooms” of the Commission, neither revealing anthropological discovers. But you will find real-time first-hand impressions of a person willing to make his hands dirty.

Impressions on EC Report.
The first impressions about the DG ENLARG annual overview of enlargement policy  including the report on EU-Serbia relations are as vague as the style used by the Commission itself. The most handy documents (the Conclusions and the Communication to EP and the Council) are rough, generalized, non specific.

The far longer (and thus less practical) analytical report is definitely more accurate. For how obvious this might be, it has to be taken in due consideration the impressions left by the aforementioned “handy documents” on the mind of the unlucky reader who does not have the time to pass through the almost 140 pages of the analytical report. I am sure that the means put in place by DG ENLARG to write down this accurate document could have been used to draft a more complete sum-up document, able to give a proper description of the current state of art of the EU-Serbia relations.

Apart from those negative remarks, the quality of the analytical report is very high. It gives a fair (although “westernized”) description of Serbian state structure, legally pertinent, focusing on most relevant issues.

Serbia as a brick.
One of the strongest point of the European Union so far, has been the capacity to put together different local administrations in different countries, thus implementing the so called “Cohesion Policy“. The results of this policy vary from area to area. However it demonstrate the sensitivity of the EU towards the local administrations, toward the differences (and the common features) among bordering regions of different countries.
Reading the analytical report, some might have the impression that Serbian society is thick and uniform as a brick. Even if Serbia has not been granted the status of candidate country (unlike some specialized reviews affirmed), a more accurate description of the various differences among the Serbian is fundamental to the general evaluation of the country. The European Commission should be aware of this.

Despite the fact that the Commission suggested the Council to grant Serbia the candidate status, the general impact of the report would be more adherent to reality (and thus easier to implement) if it would take in consideration the diversified panorama of social and legal institutions in Serbia.
The author is not aware if the Commission put in place such analyses, nor if Serbian authorities, in their continuos supporting EU officials, underlined the regional differences in the country.
That is what I am going to ask for and discover.