[Op-ed ] Is EU’s carrot big enough? Calling for a new accession policy towards the Western Balkans

01 June 2017

Tags : opinions - balkans,eu

By Andor DELI

Brussels, 01 June 2017, dtt-net.com - Currently, six Western Balkans countries are huddled in the waiting-room of EU accession, when the EU has little more to offer than the carrot and the stick. With a renewed focus on enlargement policy, the Western Balkans could get a new stimulus in order to make the benefits of the EU accession process more tangible to their citizens

After the EU enlargement in 2004, enlargement policy had been declared to be one of the most successful policies of the EU – a title that still prevails – although enlargement fatigue is omnipresent. The EU is entangled in its own soul-searching, whereby almost no energy is left to tackle the issue of the latecomers, meaning the candidate countries in the Western Balkans. Keeping up the strenuously gained political stability of the region (which we must not forget was mainly created by the United States via the Dayton agreement and which still serves as the basis of the status quo) is the only element which can rouse European political decision-makers to dust off and reengage in the once successful enlargement policy. Meanwhile EU’s navel-gazing is started to take its toll among the citizens of Western Balkans who are slowly but certainly loosing hope regarding whether or not they are sincerely welcome in the post-Brexit European Union. There are already generations of now middle-aged people who spent almost twenty years waiting eagerly to become proud citizens of the EU. Instead of that the only achievement they had experienced – in the best case scenario – is visa liberalization. The visibility of the EU is weak and on top of that EU’s “love” towards these countries seems to be always conditional. Deeply and permanently connected to fulfilling certain criteria. The famous “stick and carrot” way of doing politics in the Balkans, first effectively used by the US during the 90’s conflict management, is unfortunately still the only method used in European external policy.

After more than two decades Europe needs to find a new way to deal with this sensitive and fragile part of the continent otherwise there will be a point where the metaphorical horse will stop chasing the carrot. It will look around and see that there are other merchants as well with some rather pleasing vegetables. Maybe it would not be a sweet carrot, but after running around hungry for more than two decades I am afraid an ordinary turnip could suffice just as well. The EU needs a big makeover in its enlargement policy, at least when it comes to the Western Balkan states. The common market idea from the Sarajevo declaration -that was signed by all six leaders of the region – could be seen as a promising move, a step in the right direction. It can serve as a good basis, but it is not enough. The migration crisis and the so-called Western Balkans route made it crystal clear that Europe’s security is heavily dependent on these countries.

The EU spent billions of euros on the deal with Turkey although they are now threatening us on a weekly basis with new tidal waves of migrants. The EU is helping African countries with billions of euros in order to stabilize them and to prevent new migratory floods. How come the EU is not ready to invest more heavily in its closest neighbor, its gate-keeper and future member? For example, Serbia will receive pre-accession funds a little bit over 1 billion euros for a period of seven years. That is around 200 million euros per year for the biggest country in the region. In comparison the European Parliament spends this amount on a yearly basis just for covering its expenses for its two-seat policy in Brussels and Strasbourg. How can it be that the EU is opening its “piggybank” so reluctantly when it comes to its nearest partners?

A common market approach bolstered with additional cohesion-like funding could serve as a “carrot” which – I am convinced – no candidate country could resist. With an appropriate institutional framework it could speed up harmonization processes in these countries, it would boost neighbourly cooperation and it would contribute to stability of the region and to security of Europe as a whole. The potential is huge and the money invested now would make the post-membership phase easier and probably much less costly too. After all, we must not forget that with Brexit, one of the biggest net contributors to the cohesion funds will be lost, .This kind of “prep-school” for future member states would also fit in nicely into the recently formulated ideas on Future of Europe. Thinking that a Western Balkan state should first achieve Nordic standards to be admitted to the EU is neither realistic nor fair.

After all, the present EU member states also manifest great differences when it comes to certain issues and we would lose all the remaining confidence and trust of our Western Balkan partners in the process. Nobody is born ready for the difficult tasks in life, neither are states. If we look beyond all those technocratic accession negotiations, harmonization and benchmarking the point to declare a state ready for accession is first and foremost a political decision. Western Balkans countries still have a lot on their plates, but at this point, political decision-makers are hiding behind technocratic procedures in order to delay the inevitable task of taking a clear political decision about EU’s enlargement with the Western Balkan states. After all, if enlargement is one of the most successful European policies, then this should be an easy decision, the future stability of the region and perhaps the continent depends on it.

(The author is Member of European Parliament. The opinion was originally published at http://eptoday.com magazine).



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