Global Independent Analytics
Normunds Grostins
Normunds Grostins

Location: Latvia

Specialization: Development of European Union, Non-governmental organizations, Politics and economics in Baltic States

EU on Western Balkan route

It was confirmed by EU leadership, that countries of the Western Balkans would be eligible for EU membership if they met the criteria established at the Copenhagen European Council in June 1993.

Italian PM Matteo Renzi told Germany's Die Welt on November 2015: "It would be a tragic and a historic mistake to leave out the Balkan countries. The admission of Albania, Montenegro and Serbia into the European Union must have priority".

EU enlargement policy includes financial assistance, channeled mainly through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance. The Delegation of the European Union to Montenegro said that the total indicative amount of EU financial assistance allocated to the country by 2020 is € 324 m. This perfectly explains motivation of political Montenegro’s elite to join EU.

In Serbia, EU was the biggest assistance provider with € 200 m each year in grants, without counting the unprecedented € 170 m provided in the aftermath of last year´s dramatic floods and support in dealing with the refugee crisis.

Montenegro and Serbia have started EU membership talks. Macedonia and Albania are candidate countries.

Serbia wants to complete EU accession negotiations by 2019. Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic expressed euroskepticism and frustration after the first chapters in EU-Serbia negotiations have been opened.

Public opinion polls conducted in June 2015 demonstrated that 49% of Serbian citizens support the adhesion of Serbia to the block. While the refugee crisis is most likely decreasing electoral support for EU accession, Balkan political elites still want EU membership as tool to access EU funds.

The past year has shown that the challenges currently faced along the Western Balkan migration route will most likely not be solved through national actions. The European Commission convened the leaders of the countries concerned and most affected by the emergency situation along the Western Balkans route: Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia.

Leaders from EU Member States and the Western Balkans agreed (October, 2015) to a 17-point plan to ease the ongoing refugee crisis in the region.

Meeting in Brussels, the leaders agreed to improve cooperation and step up consultation between the countries along the route and decided on pragmatic operational measures that can be implemented a to tackle the refugee crisis.

Speaking to the press before the meeting, High Representative Federica Mogherini said: "What is at stake here is the coherence of our response to a process that is not going to disappear any time soon."

Concretely, leaders agreed to implement 17 operational measures including supporting refugees and providing shelter and rest, managing the migration flows together, border management, tackling smuggling and trafficking and monitoring.

But is this really going to work in real life? Most Balkan states all have, for economic, political or social reasons, tendencies towards periodic political upheaval. Changes in government and turbulent early elections can be safely predicted.

Wherever European Union’s borders in the Balkans are intended to stand, the practical question is the following: will EU comfortably encompass societies whose internal structure has undeniable high levels of corruption?

Look at Macedonia – an aspiring EU member state where corruption is widespread. Recently the government of PM Nikola Gruevski has been at the center of a major wiretapping scandal. The leaked conversations of various government officials suggest that the prime minister and his spymaster (who is his cousin) have been coordinating a surveillance operation which, by some estimates, included 20,000 people. In response Gruevski accused the opposition of allying with foreign intelligence services to plot a treacherous coup.

Or Montenegro – another candidate for EU membership, which prides itself on being the "regional leader in Euroatlantic integrations". It has been ruled in continuity for 25 years by Milo Dukanovic's regime (from 1991 onwards Dukanovic has either served as the country's prime minister, its president or held power de facto).

Most industry has been privatized to phantom firms with ties to Dukanovic's cronies, institutional corruption is endemic at all levels of governance and party loyalty is the foremost requisite for finding a job. Last year, the ruling party leadership was caught on tape discussing various methods of buying votes – there have been no criminal charges.

Finally, take a look at Serbia. In 2012, corruption was so rampant and the economy in such a dire state that the post-Milosevic regime had squandered all of its credibility. A party of former ultranationalists-turned-Europhiles took power and, instead of delivering on the reformist promises, focused on cultivating an idolatry of prime minister Aleksandar Vucic, monopolising the scheme of partisan hiring, privatising major state holdings under shady conditions and establishing unprecedented media censorship.

“A lot of work lies ahead of us. But I am confident that together, as partners and friends, we will handle the next steps smoothly and soon open a new chapter of our common history to bring Serbia where it belongs: into the European family,” said European Commissioner Hahn in his speech before the National Assembly of Serbia.

It is not too hard to predict positive results of EU accession referendums in such political environments of the Western Balkan route.

 

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