The EU-Balkan Summit in Sofia, conceived as Thessaloniki 2, was very disappointing because there was been no reaffirmation of the European perspective for the Balkan countries – says Toby Vogel, from the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies.
Vogel told Radio Free Europe that French President Emanuel Macron was the one to squelch the European aspirations of the candidate countries from the Balkans, saying that the EU must first carry out internal reforms before admitting new members.
With EU leaders consumed by the bloc’s own internal problems, the summit is set to disappoint those who hoped for a reboot.
Bulgaria’s presidency of the EU was greeted with much enthusiasm throughout the Western Balkans, given Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s pledge to help the “WB6” get closer to the EU.
Macron’s stance just confirms France’s long-standed position, and it is quite interesting to see that Macron, who is viewed as an extremely pro-European politician, advocates such a stance towards the EU membership of the Balkan countries.
“I consider the outcome of the summit as very disappointing, because of the treatment that the six Balkan countries got in the final document where they are mentioned partners rather than states”, Vogel says for Radio Free Europe.
Vogel further says that it is disappointing that the Spanish Prime Minister did not participate in the summit because of Kosovo, and that all this shows that the EU has not strongly reaffirmed its commitment to its enlargement to the Balkans.
According to him, it is misleading to expect that that Serbia and Montenegro could become members in 2025.
EU reforms, primarily the Eurozone, do not require much time, but rather the political will and consensus of member states that does not exist at present. France and Germany do not agree on the direction of reforms in the eurozone, Vogel said. They agree only to minor steps to be taken within the European Stabilization Mechanism and similar issues.
“Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect that Serbia and Montenegro can become members by 2025 like many have been claiming recently”, Vogel said.
He added EU did not have a political strategy for the Western Balkans, and that the Union only relates to the region through the enlargement process.
This approach has worked well in countries such as Hungary, Poland, and even Slovakia which truly wanted to join the EU and implement the reforms.
Vogel says that those countries were not “held prisoner” by various elites, as is the case with the Balkans.
The Balkan countries, with certain exceptions, have ruling elites who hold formal free elections, but without essential political pluralism, Vogel thinks.
Even where it seems that, at least on the surface, there is political pluralism, various business interests are essentially controlling political parties and election candidates, Vogel explains.
Vogel agrees with the claim that the countries are putting in effort to meet certain criteria only to join the EU, and once they do, they are no longer bothered with it.
He cites Croatia as an example of this, which, while being a candidate, had to fulfill certain criteria relating to protection of national minorities, however, now that it is a member, there is evidently flirting with an extreme right, tensions in the relations with Serbia regarding Jasenovac, and a border dispute with Slovenia, Vogel explains.
Therefore, many in the Balkans, who considered that the EU is a sort of panacea that will solve all their problems, are now finding that it is an illusion, which is the reason for the decline in enthusiasm for joining the European bloc, Vogel adds.
He goes on to say that EU membership or the accession process is not a mechanism for resolving bilateral conflicts.
Asked if the official Belgrade was afraid that one of the conditions for joining the EU was officially recognizing Kosovo’s independence, Vogel thinks it is not necessary for Serbia to formally recognizes Kosovo to join the EU. However, it would have to accept a legally binding agreement within the framework of international law that would allow Serbia and Kosovo the de facto state, diplomatic and other relations.
This would not be a formal recognition of Kosovo’s independence by Belgrade, but close to it.
Serbian leaders must ultimately address the Serbian citizens and tell them what they already know – that is, Belgrade lost control of Kosovo 20 years ago, primarily because of the repression by the Serbian authorities, which caused the Albanians’ resistance – Vogel argues.
After Serbia lost control of Kosovo, it was inevitable that Kosovo declared independence ten years ago, Vogel said.
According to him, now is the time to recognize this reality.
“When that happens, both Serbia and Kosovo will be get much closer to the EU membership”, Vogel says for Radio Free Europe.
Photo Credits:” Foto AP”
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