When discussing the Western Balkans with analysts and policy makers, one can notice distinct mood shifts over the years. In some cases is might be just because you are at a gathering of optimists or pessimists, in other cases it has little to do with the situation in the countries, as it might be the case of dissapointed internatioanl (false) expections or what is bad in one country does not necessarily bode ill for another.
Be this as it may, it was striking to note the worried atmosphere at a meeting last week in Paris of EU policy makers and analysts. After 2006 seemed like a year where transition from post-conflict to European integration would be more tangible, little was decided. Now 2007 might be overwhelmed by the legacy of 2006. Both the status decision for Kosovo and the shutting down of the OHR in Bosnia appears already to be too much in one go. So, local 'ownership', the buzzword of a few years back has fallen in popularity. It appears that the future EU mission in Kosovo will be similar to the OHR including the Bonn-powers (to dimiss officials and pass legislation) and since the current High Rep. Schwarz Schilling is leaving early and even he noted the continued need for the OHR, full souvereignty to Bosnia also seem to be not forthcoming any time soon. To a large degree, the talk of an independence referendum of the Serb Republic by Milorad Dodik is to blame. Ironically, one of the politicians the most critical of the international community and of the OHR in particular has thrown it another life-line.
Whether the OHR will remain effective and it's decision legitimate remains to be seen. It is an emperor without clothes and if it is called on its weakness, there might be difficulties ahead. A few years back, a good part of Bosnian citizens supported an increase in the power of the OHR, in 2006 the UND early warning report notes that supporters of reducing the OHR's competences are larger than those who would like to increase it among all three national communities. Similarly in Kosovo, there is a question whether such a type of mission will be legitimate and accepted, especially as the status solution is unlikely to satisfy anybody fully.
Finally, as there is a sense that EU enlargement might be slowed down and not because of the countries in the region, but because of the EU's current internal crisis, the key carrot might be loosing some of its pull.
Altogether, the meeting left me thinking that despite some key decisions being taken in 2007, stability remains at risk and we might have to wait for 2008 for more courageous steps towards EU Integration of the region.