The state of play of the EU Enlargement strategy towards the Western Balkans was discussed in the policy dialogue “After Croatia – Re-energizing the EU enlargement policy on the Balkans”, which was organized by the European Fund for the Balkans, Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz and hosted by the European Policy Center on 25th on November in Scotland House in Brussels. This policy event presented itself as a good opportunity to hear the both sides involved in the EU Integration process of the Western Balkans. The open discussion of the eminent panelists Tanja Miscevic-Serbia’s Chief EU Negotiator, Aleksandar A.Pejovic-Montenegro’s Chief EU Negotiator, Christian Danielsson – Director-General for Enlargement in the European Commission, Christoph Retzlaff-Head of EU Enlargement, Neighbourhood and EU External Relations, Foreign Office of Germany, Florian Bieber, Professor of Southeast European Studies and Director of the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz and Anton Nimac, Head of the World Bank’s Vienna Office managed to raise a series of new questions and dilemmas, but it also gave some answers and first-hand information about the current situation of this important process, which is seen as a driving force of the reforms in the Balkans.
According to the Christian Danielsson – Director-General for Enlargement in the European Commission, despite the much exploited use of the term “EU Enlargement fatigue”, the official view-point of the Commission is that the EU Enlargement policy is going forward, having in mind the positive examples of the new member state of EU – Croatia, the accession negotiations of Montenegro, the historical agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, but also the overall advancement of Macedonia, BiH and Kosovo considering the internal and external factors which are slowing down the process in this countries.
Danielsson once more stressed the fact that on the long road of the EU accession the rule of law, inclusiveness, fundamental and minority rights, freedom of expression and the efficient economy and functioning market will continue to be the main focus in the EU monitoring of the development and the level of conducted reforms in the countries.
Serbia’s Chief EU Negotiator Tanja Miscevic shared the details of the recent Serbian experience in this process, which is specific because the implementation of the agreement on normalization of relations with Kosovo was given as a formal pre-condition for the EU accession. According to her this 2 processes should empower each other and not exclude each other. The 35 established working groups for the different chapters and the first successful bilateral screening for the chapter 32 which was conducted on 26 of November in Brussels is a good starting position for Serbia, which according to the chief negotiator Miscevic will have to focus more on the agricultural and rural development, structural and regional capacities and energy.
According to her official standing, the EU Integration process is inevitably intertwined with the reforms and that is shown through the recent public polls – 52% of the people in Serbia are pro-EU and 68 % are pro reforms.
Aleksandar A.Pejovic-Montenegro’s Chief EU Negotiator presented the progress of Montenegro in the implementation of the new approach which was introduced by the EU for his country and the fact that the Croat model was followed as a positive example for improving the dynamic and the structural capacities. He also mentioned the close cooperation with Island as a similar model of small administration faced with a complex process of adjustment to the Brussels norms. He also put an accent on the extensive work on the chapters 23 and 24, which are of primary importance of creating a transformed and reformed Montengrin society that will be viable and healthy part of the EU family.
Christoph Retzlaff, Head of EU Enlargement, Neighbourhood and EU External Relations, Foreign Office of Germany, repeated the overall german standpoint that the Enlargement fatigue is certainly a problem, saying that the average percentage of German citizens who are pro EU Enlargement is 20% in Germany and in between 30-35% in EU.
In the middle of the debt crisis, the mistrust in the EU Institutions and the difficult experience from the previous enlargement wave having in mind Romania and Bulgaria, Retzlaff expressed his belief that now is most important to keep the economic stability, focus on the state-building capacities and core values(rule of law, democracy etc.) rather only sticking to the EU Enlargement Strategy. He stated that the EU perspective of the Western Balkans is very alive and tangible, but it will be achieved only with strict, but fair conditionality. Also this period will be reserved for EU to see whether it is ready to absorb new members in near future.
Florian Bieber, Professor of Southeast European Studies and Director of the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz, who is a well-known connoisseur of the Western Balkans, stated that he believes that a two-tier Western Balkans will be created if the EU Enlargement strategy continues to develop in this direction- Serbia, Montenegro and Albania going forward, Kosovo and BiH lagging behind. If that happens, it will be both disastrous for EU and the Balkans.
He once more actualized the phrase EU Enlargement fatigue and the fact that only 25 % of the people in Austria, Germany, France, Finland and Netherlands support the enlargement. In such a constellation, he pose the question what does this numbers mean, how does the general crisis impacts the Balkans, how long can one wait to enter the EU and what can be done with the regional and bilateral blockages. If the next wave of countries can be expected for 2020, that will be more than a whole generation waiting to become part of EU.
According to Bieber’s perception the problem based approach towards the Balkans and the existing stereotypes on different levels are just bringing more skepticism to the general EU alienation towards the Western Balkans and that can only be an obstacle plus to the whole reformative process of the separate countries and EU.