Economic Crisis in the Balkans: The Ticking Bomb

Economic Crisis in the Balkans: The Ticking Bomb

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- On July 1, in an unexpected move that shocked the entire nation, Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader announced his resignation. Sanader blamed his departure "at least in part" on the politics of the European Union, which could not overcome the Slovenian veto on Croatia's accession. Croatia was set to enter the EU by next year, but was blocked by Slovenia -- already an EU member state -- over an unresolved territorial dispute.

But while the accession crisis has put pressure on Croatia, it may be only part of the story behind Sanader's resignation. The country is in bad shape economically. Having entered into serious recession in the first quarter, it is having difficulty servicing its huge external debt (close to €40 billion). Rumors are rife that the government is on the verge of bankruptcy, and that it could be just a matter of time before it is unable to pay salaries. That could spell serious social unrest.

Croatia is not the only Balkan country in such dire straits. Last week, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski suddenly reshuffled his government, replacing several ministers. Again, the move seemed provoked, at least partially, by the European agenda. The cabinet shuffle followed just a couple of days after the resignation of the strongly pro-European deputy prime minister in charge of European integration, Ivica Bocevski. Analysts interpreted Bocevski's mysterious resignation, offered while he was on a visit to the U.S., as the result of tensions with the more Euro-skeptical Gruevski.

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