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.