Balkan nations - Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Federal
Yugoslavia, Macedonia and Albania - win EU backing
The European Union yesterday committed itself to helping the five countries of the western Balkans to become potential candidates for EU membership.
The five - Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Federal Yugoslavia, Macedonia and Albania - committed themselves at a summit to being good neighbours and to respecting international obligations, including those to the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). They also said they would work towards greater co-operation in economic matters and in fighting corruption and crime.
At the summit, hosted by Stipe Mesic, Croatias president, the EU emphasised the countries undertakings to make clear their responsibilities to pursue economic and democratic reforms.
In return, the EU said it would devote around Euros 4.65bn (Pounds 2.79bn) to a new aid programme for the countries involved from 2000 to 2006.
More money might be given if the recipient countries capacity to use it increased, Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, said. But that would require greater regional co-operation.
The summit also saw Macedonias signing of the first so-called stabilisation and association agreement with the EU - a new kind of agreement intended for western Balkans countries. Croatia also formally started negotiations on such an agreement.
The summit also marked a further step in the integration of the Yugoslav federation into regional reconstruction efforts, with the presence of Vojislav Kostunica, the new Yugoslav president.
Mr Kostunica was paying his first visit in office to Croatia, which fought a war of independence against Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1995.
There was some disappointment, however, over the tone of Mr Kostunicas speech, which included neither an apology for Yugoslav soldiers actions in Croatia, which many Croatians wanted, nor a promise to co-operate with the ICTY.
Other disagreements, which partly overshadowed the meeting, also showed how far the region still is from meeting all the goals set out at the summit.
The most open conflict was between Serbia and Montenegro, its junior partner in the Yugoslav federation. Milo Djukanovic, the Montenegrin president, refused to accept his formal status at the summit as a member of the Yugoslav delegation and reiterated his intention to hold a referendum on independence early next year.
The presence in the French delegation of Bernard Kouchner, head of the United Nations mission in Kosovo, also underlined the questions over the Serbian provinces status.