Later this week, the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee will be discussing the progress of Serbia towards EU membership. The prospect of EU membership in the Western Balkans is a topic we’ve covered a fair bit recently (see here and here, for example), and we’ve received hundreds of questions and comments from readers.
Most countries in the Western Balkans are hoping to join the European Union eventually, and Croatia will soon become the second former-Yugoslavian state to join (Slovenia being the first in 2004). But, given the crisis in the eurozone, is now really the right time to discuss enlarging the EU? And perhaps Western Balkan countries should anyway be looking Eastwards instead of Westwards; could the rising economies of Russia, India and China provide more prosperous and stable partnerships?
Last December, we attended Friends of Europe’s Balkans Progress event in Brussels. It was a high-level event, with ministers attending from several Western Balkan countries. We had the opportunity to put some of your questions to the ministers to hear their reactions.
We started with a question from Florian, who suggested that:
The priority now is a deepening of the [European Union], not its enlargement… I am sure political leaders in the Western Balkans understand the EU’s current predicament and that they have the patience and determination to stay the integration course, even if that might entail a ten-year delay regarding their aspirations. After all, what other political project could mobilise their countrymens’ energies and aspirations?
But is patience in the Western Balkans beginning to wear thin? We asked Zoran Stavreski, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Next up, we had a question from Nikolai, who wondered whether “What was attractive about the EU may no longer be attractive once the structural changes that are deemed necessary have occurred.”
Perhaps it would be in the best interests of Western Balkan countries to wait and see what the European Union looks like once its institutional changes are concluded, before they decide whether it’s really worth joining? How would Majlinda Bregu, Albania’s Minister for European Integration, answer this question?
We also put this same question to Miroslav Lajčák, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia. It would be interesting to hear his perspective as a politician from a country that joined the EU in 2004.
Finally, we had a comment from Ari, who asked whether the Western Balkan countries were making the mistake of putting all their “eggs in the same basket”:
Economic cooperation with Russia and other BRIC countries can create real development on the ground, instead [of] slow development at the EU’s negotiation tables.
First, we put Ari’s comment to Erdal Trhulj, Minister for Energy, Mining and Industry of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Next, we put the same comment to Besim Beqaj, Minister of Economic Development, Kosovo.
What do YOU think? Should Western Balkan countries be looking Eastwards instead of Westwards; at the rising economies of Russia, India and China? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.