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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 29:23–28.


The Southeastern Enlargement of the European Union as Seen from Strasbourg


First of all, let me give a short definition of what I mean by Western Balkans. Under the ambiguous European Union terminology it means the states of the former Yugoslavia with the exception of Slovenia, and Albania added to it. Naturally, the issue of enlargement extends over a far broader space, including Turkey and the admission of Turkey. I do not wish to dwell upon the latter issue this time.

The crisis in the Balkans is as old as the history of the European Union and it is one of the most important and gravest of challenges. When in the summer of 1991 hectic conciliation talks were in progress for the finalisation of the Maastricht Treaty creating the European Union, arms were already rattling in Yugoslavia. The conflict was not fully without antecedents, yet seemingly the Member States of the European Community and of the European Union later on were surprised and were unprepared for it. The Balkan crisis had a very clear moulding effect on the foreign and security policy and later on the defence policy of the European Union, as well.

It was an obvious challenge, encouraging the Union to strengthen its joint appearance. At the same time it failed right at the first test of power, at the acknowledgement of Croatia. It is known that two Member States, Germany and Italy acknowledged Croatia ahead of the others, which caused some uncertainty. The Bosnian and afterwards the Kosovo crises in their turn pointed out that the European Union was unable to guarantee or maintain order and stability even in its own immediate environment.

It was a great punch to the self-consciousness and respectability of the newly born Union that the Bosnian accord was not reached in Europe but in Dayton in the United States and basically it was not forced out by Europeans but by the Americans. This is also true of the solution of the Kosovo crisis for, though negotiations were held in Rambouillet, the decisive part of the military action was executed by the Americans. Without them the Member States of the European Union would have been unable to do so not only in a military but also in a political sense.

The first and unambiguous turn in the Balkan policy of the European Union took place at the Thessaloniki Summit of 2003. The decisive changes in Croatia and Serbia, the two dominant countries of the region had certainly contributed to this turn. With the death of Tudjman and with the fall of Milošević all the decisive countries of the region took to a clearly European orientation and manifested their intention for co-operation. This was awarded by the European Council, topmost institution of the European Union in Thessaloniki in 2003. This was the first such stand stating that the future of the Western Balkans was in the European Union and potentially qualified all the countries of the region as candidate countries. By offering a real European perspective from then on the European Union regarded the states of the region as future Member States.

Accession, however, cannot in any way be realised, with the exception of the special case of Croatia, as long as we are unable to solve the basic and grave problems of the region. The first and most important of them is the settlement of the Kosovo crisis without which true regional stability is unimaginable. Though we are already past the deadline the solution cannot be postponed any longer. The position is generally accepted by the international community that it was a mistake to postpone the settlement of the issue in 1999, when everybody would have accepted what they do not want to accept today. At that time the international community was facing a defeated Milošević regime that had lost its legitimacy but today Serbia has a democratically elected government. Today the strange situation has emerged that Milošević could retain Kosovo whereas the democratising Serbia is losing it. This is obviously difficult to digest for Serbia. If Kosovo gains its independence, it may stabilise the currently rather uncertain conditions of Kosovo but may destabilise Serbia. There is no realistic chance for an agreement between the two parties. Surely, we may beguile ourselves and we do so up to 10 December 2007 for the representatives of Serbia and the Albanians of Kosovo may carry on negotiations up to that date, but antagonistically different positions are confronting each other. Serbia is ready to give anything that is less than independence, whereas the Albanians of Kosovo do not want to accept anything that is less than independence. It is extremely difficult to bridge over these two divergent stands.

Theoretically there may be three solutions: one is to preserve the present status quo. This is only wanted by Serbia and perhaps by Russia. The European Union has officially taken a stand in favour of the supervised independence defined by the Ahtisaari plan. This position can hardly be regarded as a fully united and enthusiastic rallying point. It was also revealed at the meeting of Foreign Ministers in Portugal recently that there are Member States that do not unconditionally agree with it: Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia have a different opinion. The position of the European Union is further weakened and its sphere of mobility is greatly narrowed by constantly stressing the importance of the UN Security Council decision. The EU makes the impression that it only accepts the decision of the Security Council. This revaluates the role of Russia incredibly and practically ensures its right to veto in the quest for solution. In my view this is an unnecessary self-restraint and in addition it will not lead to any result.

The possibility of the division of Kosovo also emerges on the level of experts but the European Union is largely averse to it. The Union fears that it would lead to destabilisation in certain parts of the region and to secession in others. Serbia has never officially rejected this option. On 12 September 2007 the Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica was in Brussels and had talks with José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission. As the minutes of the negotiations show this solution did not even occur in the form of a question.

What can be expected after all this? After 10 December the Albanians of Kosovo will, in all probability decide for the declaration of their independence. This will, once again place the European Union for a serious test of power for there is no uniform view in its Member States about how one should react upon the unilateral declaration of independence. Some Member States are of the view, together with the United States that independence should be acknowledged. Other Member States abstain from it. We are facing yet another embarrassing failure of the foreign policy of the European Union with a disruption and uncertainty similar to the Iraqi war. Unfortunately, I am not at all optimistic in this respect.

I am convinced that the separation of Kosovo from Serbia is mostly in the interest of Serbia. I am convinced that nothing worse could be done to Serbia than simply leaving Kosovo at their care. One could then, give up the European perspective for Serbia. The European Union does not wish to receive by any means the mass of crisis that Kosovo would mean within Serbia with the renewed civil war situation. The Kosovo situation is a huge burden for Serbia. It can only set out on the way of catching-up if it gets rid of that. There are some people in Serbia who share this view, and privately quite a few politicians admit it. Openly only the Liberal Democratic Party has so far undertaken to give up the illusion of Kosovo. This is a very painful and traumatic process, which we, Hungarians understand and sense well. Yet, it is eminently in their interest. The European Union would also like to convince Serbia about it. It is not accidental that the Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi even promised recently that they may join the European Union along a ‘rapid track’ if they get appeased with the independence of Kosovo.

Since October 2000 we have been conducting negotiations with Serbia on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. This year at least we have reached a technical accord, but it is not yet known how it would operate in practice. Until cooperation is not restored with the International Court of Justice in The Hague the agreement cannot be concluded. We are expecting Carla Del Ponte’s new report that would make a statement about it.

Today political instability can be sensed in Serbia, and the usual problems, characteristic mostly of the states of the region are present such as corruption, organised crime, the problem of the administration of justice, a weak public administration, high rates of unemployment and a relatively low absorption capacity for Union subsidies. Incidentally Serbia is in an exceptional position concerning Union supports because, in addition to the 100 million euros allocated to Kosovo last year it received 196 million euros of assistance, which is per capita almost as much as the one received by Croatia. The latter one is a candidate member country and Serbia is only a potential one, therefore in theory there should be tangible difference between the allocations received by the two countries. There, however, seems to be political agreement that in case Serbia showed co-operative behaviour in the Kosovo issue, the European Union wishes to help its integration into Europe financially also.

Croatia is considered as a success country in the region. Despite the fact that it is still at the beginning of the accession talks, in addition it fares rather badly in comparison to its own ambitions, because it wishes to accede to the Union already in 2009. So far only 14 of the 35 chapters have been opened and only two have been concluded. In addition those two are the chapters easiest to conclude, namely science and research, and education and culture, which is largely a national competency and involves very few European Union obligations. Yet I wish if Croatia at least concluded negotiations by 2009, which would practically mean membership from 2011 on, because the period of ratification starting in 2009 should also be considered. This is not an unrealistic scenario at all. The European Union also has problems with Croatia. Corruption is often mentioned, if not at the same level as in the case of Serbia. There are also lots of problems in the field of environmental protection, mostly in respect of the draining and purification of sewage water. The reform of public administration and of the administration of justice has begun but it is progressing haltingly as yet. In addition, elections are to be held in November in Croatia after the protracted campaign that began in January, which significantly slows down preparations. Due to the circumstances mentioned here a kind of deceleration can be sensed in the process, but it is only partly the fault of Croatia. The positions for negotiation of the European Union are also prepared slowly. The missed deadlines are explained by technical causes and by translation, but I think there is something else behind it. Hungary does everything so that we may find solutions for all the issues still open (such as border problems with Slovenia, a conflict in marine law with Italy) by 2009. There is still a lot to do, yet I can say that Croatia has been progressing well in preparation and will fit into the Union without any particular difficulty.

Macedonia has been another candidate country of the region since December 2005. It is a question, however, whether this really means more than potential candidate status as Macedonia was not even given a target date for the opening of negotiations. Earlier December 2007 was regarded as a probable date for setting the target date, but now every piece of information suggests that setting the beginning of negotiations would be further postponed. In Macedonia there are problems even with the implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and the Ohrid Accord which was supposed to settle problems between the Albanian and the Macedonian communities. The relationship between the opposition and the government is pitched as the Albanian opposition is once again boycotting the work of the parliament after a short break. It is characteristic of the region that the recurrent problems (corruption, organised crime, weak public administration, etc.) are enhanced here.

Montenegro may, perhaps be the next success country. It has closed the negotiations for the Stabilisation and Association Agreement but it has not entered into force to this day due to the lengthy ratification process. It is a very positive fact that the European and western orientation of Montenegro is beyond doubt. We also have to remember that they very bravely co-operated with the West in March-April 1999, in the most difficult times. It was not at all easy, because at that time they used to live in a common state with Serbia. The European integration of Montenegro enjoys political support, but they also have serious problems such as a weak state organisation, drug trafficking, smuggling of people and cigarettes, corruption, etc.

As far as Bosnia and Herzegovina is concerned not even the desire can emerge that they should constitute a united nation and there is no realistic chance for it. A step forward would be if there was a common will to operate the state. It is not only common identity but also this will that is missing. In its history of 12 years Bosnia and Herzegovina has not accomplished any step forward in the operation of the state. It started as a protectorate and though today it is not entirely the case, one cannot see that state-forming factors feel their shared responsibility for the future of the country. The text of the technically completely negotiated Stabilisation and Association Agreement has been ready for long but it will not be signed by the European Union as long as the police and public administration reform is not implemented, the problem of public service media is not solved, the issues of refugees and minorities are not settled, with special regard to the rights of the Roma minority. Next to Kosovo I see the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina as the second most burning issue of the region.

Albania is also among the potential candidate countries. The domestic political situation is characterised by instability and a vigorous tension between government and opposition, which is naturally a phenomenon present not only in the Balkan countries. Further problems that can be identified in the country are the protection of minorities, particularly the condition of Roma issues, weak legal security, the strong influence of the mafia, corruption and organised crime.

Consequently, a not too encouraging image of the region may unfold. But we should be realistic and face the questions: what are the problems that we wish to solve and how valuable is the region for us. The stability and peace of the Balkans is of basic interest for the European Union. It has tried to ignore the region but failed. It tried to keep the events taking place in the Balkans far from its borders, which again failed because their impact percolated through by refugees, crime and general instability. Now we are experimenting with integrating the Balkans and exercising influence on the internal processes through the perspective of EU-membership. This is the so-called ‘soft power’ that the Union effectively possesses and could use very well, far more effectively than hitherto. We may influence most of these countries if we link the realisation of objectives important to them to strictly specified and controlled conditions.

There is, however, a problem with the EU perspective and we cannot hide it even from people living in the Balkans, namely that the perspective is weakening. It has reasons lying within the European Union and being independent of them. There is a kind of enlargement fatigue that can be sensed in the public opinion of the European Union. It is rather frustration than enthusiasm that can be observed in this respect and disillusionment can also be sensed in politicians.

Of the annual budget of generally 120 billion euros one billion is spent on enlargement policy. This sum will be somewhat higher in 2008 because an additional sum of 180 million euros is earmarked for Kosovo as a function of settlement. More, however, should be spent on the other West Balkan states too. This does not only means bigger sums but a different support scheme, as well.

One of the basic problems is weak civil society therefore much more should be spent on building and supporting civil society. The support of the independent media should be made more vigorous because there is a great deficit in this field in the countries of the region. The situation is similar also in the field of institution-building and education. Currently the EU is concentrating rather on the building of bridges, roads and similar projects. They are spectacular, they can be inaugurated and they are obviously needed, but contribute less to the real democratisation and stability of the region.

If the European Union takes its own opportunities of influence seriously and makes the European perspective once again authentic, it can shape the internal conditions of the region far more positively. In this respect I wish to flash optimism even if I do not think that enlargement, with the exception of Croatia, would take place in respect of the other countries in the very near future.


* Member of the European Parliament