Clueless in the Balkans

I've been a harsh critic of the EU's approach to enlargement in general and the Western Balkans in particular, but the European Commission did the only thing it could realistically do when it postponed giving Romania and Bulgaria a firm entry date on Tuesday. If it had recommended to the EU member states to postpone entry by one year, it would have removed any incentive for further reform in Sofia and Bucharest since the two would have entered by 2008 one way or another. The Commission would also have set itself up for a nasty fight that it couldn't have won -- postponing Bulgaria's accession would require a unanimous decision by the EU's 25 members, something that would have been impossible to achieve. Giving them a firm 2007 date would have had much the same effect -- it would have provided an incentive for the two governments to slack. Judy Dempsey doesn't agree with this analysis:

By delaying a decision over whether Bulgaria and Romania will be ready to join the European Union next year, the European Commission has sent a negative signal to the countries of the western Balkans Albania and some states of the former Yugoslavia whose chances of joining now seem more remote than ever, according to experts in the region.

She quotes an expert from the "European Stability Initiative," a Berlin think tank that has consistenly managed to be as wrong on Bosnia as one could possibly be:

"The western Balkans has witnessed over the past 12 months that engagement by the EU toward their accession prospects has slowed down," said Kristof Bender, a Balkans expert at the European Stability Initiative, an independent political research group. "The commission's decision on Tuesday only confirms this. Frankly, the EU's credibility in the region has been seriously undermined."

This has it exactly backwards. The EU has lost credibility in the region for many reasons, but being tough on two accession countries that are clearly not fully there yet isn't one of them. What would have happened with the Western Balkans countries if they had seen that membership can be had on the cheap? Would that not have undermined the reformers there much more than the exceedingly fair, and graciously delivered, decision by the Commission on Tuesday to say, "yes, but?" I'm all for enlargement. I also happen to think that the EU has too often gone soft on its own commitments, and I'm afraid we may see many examples of that in the Balkans over the next year. But Bulgaria isn't one of them.


Yakima_Gulag said...

I agree, in many ways the EU has struck me as a silly fad, I am glad they are actually standing firm on the matter of reforms! The best thing is to keep standing firm on all reform issues.

blahblahblah said...

Who cares about the EU? Soon they'll need us more than we need them (not that me saying that from London has any validity, given that I don't have all those visa problems etc). All we need from the EU is free trade (check, more or less) and free travel (can get it without membership - see Croatia). I quite like the idea of Serbia staying out of the EU. We're not little kids who need to be "absorbed" into civilization, who'll go all crazy and kill each other without some good old EU mothering. I'm all for being part of Europe, economically, culturally etc. However I would not want to see the Western Balkans politically integrated into the EU, no thanks.

Bg anon said...

But TK I thought that the trend in Europe is one of increased scepticism of the new entrants from Eastern Europe.

To name one Sarkozy but there are many other nation state officials who are trying to slow or stop new entrants.

Not to mention the increasingly tight immigration controls ostensibly to protect Europeans but in reality to keep non EU member country citizens out.

So although I do agree with your sentiment generally and agree that Romania and Bulgaria are obviously lagging in some areas I think its also important to point out that some EU member countries are also getting cold feet and halting the accession process like this is a victory for them.

Ironic really, makes you wonder how the EU would acted in the current environment in Slovenia vis a vis war crimes allegations which are increasing in number in the last few weeks.

Or more precisely has(nt) the EU been 'soft' on other former new members upon occasion?

Anonymous said...

The EU never had any credibility. It's about money, pure and simple. The Balkans want access to structural funds, and more importantly, the EU market.

The 'EC' is a bit of a misnomer, as it is the big countries who decide (i.e. Germany (who pays everyone's bills) and a couple of others)).

If there's one thing you can be sure about with regards the EC policy, it's that an agreement agreed, is never the same as an agreement implemented. Or maybe they're just enjoying themselves too much making balkan states jumping through hoops for their own pleasure (the EC that is).

Just look at the Turkey issue...

As for the take up of the acquis communautiare (EC law all states must adopt), even in current EC states there are serious holes, most notably the new members with regards gypsies,(CZ etc) non-citizens (SLO).

The Serbs would do better out of the EU as they need them more than it need the EU. Without Serbia, a gaping hole is left in the EC's 'plan' for the region. As for cash,
the EU & the US are not the only sources (i.e. China/Japan/India etc.)

Important serbian politicians have given up trying to sell the 'benefits' of joining the EU because the EU keeps on slapping them in the face. The average person in the street knows that joining the EU is not a panacea, let alone it's williness to allow certain favored indicted war criminals and to continue in politics, let alone former criminal proxies like Djukanovic. Both the EC & the US have long since started to distance themselves from him and his regime.

All this shows is that 'justice' is for the powerful. WTF has that to do with the acquis communautaire?


Frank Sellin said...

I tend to agree with your piece, with some qualification in Romania's case. I backlinked your piece with my off-the-cuff response. :-)

YAHTI said...

Everything else could be discussed, postponed, reconsidered etc, no problem, but this situation with visas for the citizens of Serbia is ABSURD and AWFUL

Bg anon said...

Yahti What is equally awful is the price tag the EU is asking in return for letting a few Serbs in.

How many Roma must be deported to a life of poverty under Belgrades bridges?

But thats something not many people want to talk about - pro EU or anti.