To ease a budget crunch, Balkans consider joint embassies

22/04/2013

Reducing the costs of the diplomatic network through the joint use of buildings can help strained budgets.

By Klaudija Lutovska for Southeast European Time in Skopje -- 22/04/13

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Serbia's consulate in Macedonia is located in Bitola. [Klaudija Lutovska/SETimes]

In an effort to cut costs, several countries of the former Yugoslavia are co-operating with one another to establish joint foreign embassies or consular missions.

While some experts and officials have expressed concern that political differences could derail such co-operative efforts, there are leaders across the Balkans who support the concept.

Serbia and Montenegro have had such an agreement since 2007, and Belgrade also has a similar arrangement with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). In the process of succession of the property of the former Yugoslavia, Serbia must abandon 24 diplomatic and consular representative offices by the end of this year.

Montenegro is in discussions regarding joint embassies with BiH and Croatia.

Macedonia and Montenegro are negotiating the joint use of space in diplomatic offices, which Macedonia Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikola Poposki said is an economic necessity.

"We cannot go through this period without saving measures," Poposki told SETimes. "It is inevitable to tighten the belt."

Renting space for a diplomatic or consular mission can cost 500,000 to 600,000 euros per year. According to published reports, Macedonia has spent considerable sums to purchase embassies in Budapest (1.07 million euros), Prague (2 million euros) and Vienna (3.5 million euros).

As countries move forward with joint embassy plans, Kurt Bassuener, senior associate with the Democratisation Policy Council, remains skeptical.

"Given the recent histories of the former Yugoslav states remain unresolved among them, this is highly unlikely to be realised anytime soon, if ever. So while there is a financial logic, the political logic doesn't coincide," Bassuener told SETimes.

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Croatia has this embassy in Germany, but is interested in sharing joint embassy space with its Balkan neighbors. [AFP]

Montenegro Foreign Minister Milan Rocen welcomes the concept of joint embassies, but acknowledged that it will be hard to achieve until Balkan nations reach the level of co-operation that the Scandinavian countries have. Sweden, Finland and Norway have joint embassies in several countries.

"The idea for the Scandinavian model for diplomatic and consular offices, re-actualise in a situation of economic crisis. As with the Scandinavian model, [we need to be sure] not to jeopardise our national interests even though we are located in the same building," said Borko Stefanovic, political director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia.

Ambassador of Montenegro in BiH Dragan Djurovic told SETimes that the countries do not share joint diplomats, but Serbia represents Podgorica's interests and issues visas in 42 nations where Montenegro does not have diplomatic missions. The Serbia-Montenegro co-operation has existed successfully since 2007, he said.

BiH and Serbia concluded an agreement on mutual representation to provide consular protection and services in other countries.

"This provides consular representation [assistance in the event of death, accident, serious illness, evidence collection, etc.] in the countries in which either party has no diplomatic or consular missions. So it's not about any linking of diplomatic missions of Bosnia and Herzegovina with [diplomatic consular missions] of other countries in the region, but only on the representation of certain consular issues directly to the relevant agreements," Nebojsa Regoje, spokesperson of the BiH Foreign Affairs Ministry, told SETimes.

Pressed by economic reasons, Slovenia decided to close diplomatic missions, in Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Ireland and consular offices in New York and Dusseldorf. Croatia has approached Slovenia about establishing joint embassies, but Ljubljana has rejected the offer.

"Slovenian Prime Minister Pahor explained that this proposal is not in the interest of Slovenia, and is impossible to be realised, given that we are a member of EU and NATO. After all, we have the opportunity through the EU delegation to be present in the whole world," Dejan Vladic, political attaché from Slovenia in Serbia, told SETimes.

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Montenegro Foreign Minister Milan Rocen (left), with EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, said Balkan countries must improve their level of co-operation in order to have more joint embassies. [AFP]

Milorad Pupovac, president of the foreign policy committee of the Croatian parliament and leader of the Independent Democratic Serb Party, said he would welcome more co-operation.

"We missed to develop joint diplomatic representations with other countries, but I can imagine that there are some countries and areas where such co-operation could be achieved and needed," Pupovac told SETimes. "Until then, there should be created conditions for such co-operation between Croatia and other countries in the region, the conditions that currently don't exist. I'm afraid that the level of relationship between Croatia and Serbia and other countries still is not on the level to support such a co-operation."

Pupovac said improved co-operation will be possible "when both countries will see opportunities, particularly in economic and then other issues, in other countries and other regions."

"Croatia and Serbia should see financial benefits, savings, of joint diplomatic missions and then rationally overcome their differences," Pupovac said.

Stipe Mesic supported joint embassies during his 10 years as Croatia's president and continues to do so.

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"I think that such an initiative is primarily logical, from an economic point of view more than justified, and very useful in the context of better co-operation in the region and strengthening regional stability," Mesic told SETimes.

"No matter how much we were all oriented towards Europe, we have to be present in other parts of the world, and to us it is much easier through common missions, [rather than] the opening of a large number of our own embassies."

Correspondents Drazen Remikovic in Podgorica, Eliza Ronalds-Hannon in Sarajevo and Kruno Kartus in Osijek contributed to this report.

What advantages do you think joint embassies would provide for Balkan nations? Share your comments below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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