Many of us probably experienced a major impact on our world view as a student when we first realized that history was a highly subjective discipline of science. The truth of this statement is clearly demonstrated by how the European Parliament’s latest session evaluated the EU-Western Balkans summit held in Brdo pri Kranju. Within the span of just a few hours, we heard MEPs giving us starkly contrasting interpretations of the event held less than a month ago.
Let me just very briefly summarize the contents of the declaration adopted on 6 October 2021, since you already know the details from the media. The Western Balkans European integration prospects were reaffirmed once again and, along with emphasizing their dedication to connectivity and green transition, the participants also adopted a €30 billion Economic and Investment Plan (EIP). The latter will probably mean a significant boost for the citizens of the fairly underprivileged region.
My fellow MEPs who had a positive opinion about the summit did not hesitate to point that out. Are they right? I think so.
On the other hand, it’s hard not to notice what was missing from the declaration even though the region’s countries have been waiting for it for years: a clear and firm timeline for the Western Balkans’ accession to the EU. Nothing like that was given them again, which was a huge disappointment for many of them. Rightfully so, let’s admit. So to a certain degree, I must also agree with the politicians who considered the summit a failure for not making any real progress.
You could hardly deny that the affected states have been using their best efforts to meet the EU’s expectations.
However, each country suffers from certain limiting factors. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each Western Balkans state!
Serbia has already been tied to the EU with a thousand threads despite its traditionally good relations with Russia. On the other hand, with the Serbian Progressive Party slowly growing into a party-state organization and Serbia’s Parliament currently lacking any opposition forces, the country has seen a clear and grave deterioration in terms of democracy and the rule of law in recent years. Another open issue is Serbia’s relations with Kosovo, which has again led to serious conflicts recently.
Talking about Kosovo, you must mention the fundamental problem of its international recognition: it hasn’t even been recognized as an independent country by all EU member states. Compared to that, you may tend to disregard such supposedly secondary problems as the suspicious ties between the state and organized crime, the conflict with Serbia and the fact that Kosovo citizens still need visas in the Schengen area, while politicians talk about connectivity and green corridors in Brdo…
North Macedonia even agreed to change the country’s name just so Greece would finally green-light the accession talks. Now the small state’s efforts are blocked by Bulgaria this time – on account of another historical dispute.
To its great misfortune, Albania is treated as a part of the same package with North Macedonia. Furthermore, there are still serious concerns about the rule of law and organized crime there.
Montenegro may stand out from the other Western Balkans states, but everything is relative: the ethnic, religious and political conflicts that stretch its neighbours apart pose a great challenge to Montenegro, too.
When it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina, even its statehood seems like a big question for the country itself, while it is also marred by ethnic conflicts as well as a heavily criticized but unchangeable constitution which actually forms a chapter of the Dayton Agreement. This problem is a hard nut to crack.
On top of these country-specific problems, there are also the rightful concerns of several EU member states: if the countries admitted in the 2000s still struggle with persistent rule of law problems, and corruption is actually worse in some of them than it was before their EU accession, then how could we be expected to handle the accession of six even more underprivileged countries? According to the sceptics, it’s clear as day that neither of the Western Balkans countries are ready for EU accession, and the situation is unlikely to change in the near future, especially as long as certain EU leaders, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Slovenian PM Janez Janša keep using the region for building their own illiberal backyard.
Despite my pro-enlargement stance, I can’t condemn the positions of the Western European states which don’t want to have another crisis area in the EU, let alone to give another boost to the populist forces.
On the other hand, we must also understand that if the Western Balkans countries are not given a clear and firm timeline for their European prospects in the near future, the situation will become worse. Russia, China and Turkey are no longer just standing at the gates of the region; they are actually very much present in the countries where the illiberal and populist leaders welcome their investments and voice their own chauvinistic and increasingly frequent anti-EU views, thus instigating and radicalising the already disappointed and frustrated population against Europe. If Europe wants to avoid a disaster, it must take action soon.
It’s a real Catch-22 situation: while the accession of the Western Balkans would pose an unprecedentedly high risk of the EU’s disintegration, any rejection would mean a potentially even bigger security and economic threat.
Original article HERE.
Source: Press release