balkansEuropean leaders have been breathing a collective sigh of relief after last week’s make-or-break summit in Brussels. The markets responded enthusiastically to the measures announced (including a 50% “haircut” for holders of Greek government bonds) and disaster was averted yet again. It’s not immediately clear, of course, that the respite will be anything but temporary… still, a bit of breathing space is welcome nonetheless.

With Europe seemingly stuck in perpetual crisis mode, it’s been easy to overlook the effects of the Eurozone’s travails on the rest of the world. Debating Europe recently looked at the question of EU enlargement – but what have been the economic effects of  the Eurozone crisis on our Eastern neighbours? Has some of the “shine” come off the European project? Do the Balkan countries, for example, still see EU membership as an attractive prospect? We spoke to Serge Brammertz, prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and asked him whether the Balkan states still wanted to be a “part of the club”.

It is clear that what is attracting countries to the European Union is, of course, the European Market and European solidarity, and it was quite clear during all of the discussions we’ve had that the economic advantages of EU membership are one of the main, if not the main reason, for Serbia and other countries to implement difficult political and economic reforms. The financial crisis has only accentuated this.

Of course, not everyone agrees that the Balkan states are motivated primarily by economic concerns when it comes to EU membership. We spoke to Thomas Mirow, President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, who argued that there was a deeper reason why the countries of former Yugoslavia hoped to gain entry to the EU.

My sense is that the way the Western Balkan states look at the European Union is quite independent from cyclical economic development. They look at Europe as being the anchor, being the only long-term perspective that would also secure that no new conflicts will arise within the Balkans.

The Yugoslav wars of the 1990s shocked many who thought the horrors of the early 20th Century could never again be repeated on European soil. Is there a risk, though, that the pressures of financial and economic crisis might reignite old conflicts? We asked Kori Udovički, a former Serbian politician and now UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and UNDP Regional Director for Europe, whether that was a risk.

Quite honestly, I am taken aback by the sense of hopelessness and disillusion that exist in each country in the former Yugoslavia. Even Croatia, which is about to become a member of the EU – is not exhibiting anything like the euphoria that one would expect. There is deep disenchantment.

Could that lead to a new sort of social upheaval? In all honesty, it’s probably not around the corner because it’s hard to rally against an unidentified source. I heard people say, when the Egyptian revolution was happening, that they felt so frustrated because they wouldn’t know whose house to go to to demonstrate. What’s the alternative?

A real upheaval right now is not likely to happen, and at the same time, I am worried that if the region does not go back to a sense of possibility – a clear movement forward and greater social cohesion – that we are preparing the ground for some undesirable social movements, that would start amongst the youth. They are looking at very little employement prospects and they feel let down by the leaders.

Europe is still attractive. But there is a sense that Europe is not likely to have time for us anytime soon. Europe, because of its crisis, might not be focusing on enlargement right now. All the candidates or aspiring member states are feeling that the conditions for EU accession might be becoming simply unattainable. Encouragement is something their populations need. So, it is very important for Europe to focus on continuing to provide a sense of progress for each one of these countries. But I sense a fatigue now.

What do YOU think? Is now a time to focus on “deepening” and not “widening” the EU? Is the EU suffering from “enlargement fatigue”? Or are we abandoning our neighbours in a time of crisis? Let us know your thoughts in the form below and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

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18 comments Post a commentcomment

  1. avatar
    Noel Michael Murphy

    Right…heres what we should do…forget about this whole EU and United states of Europe thing….it wont fly.

  2. avatar
    Noel Michael Murphy

    The germans tried that in the 30s/40’s…they couldnt achieve it, and they were a lot smarter. Lets go back to the EEC plan, and leave it as just a Common Market……

  3. avatar
    Albert Saxén

    Yes, i know Mirow ..

    you mean eastern neighbors or ..member states. Anyhow, theexpansion has bn achieved; Europe is full.
    ok, maybe Ulraine..and Georgia but ..

  4. avatar
    Albert Saxén

    talk abt this in my bk

    ..Ukraine even having expressed desire someday to join the
    European Union (Belarus I don’t know. Tied to Russia with an
    agreement short of a political union)”.

    As to nation states. Russia is not. Russia is a

  5. avatar
    Cor Wilhelmus Bosma

    Global economic conquest under-construction coming soon to a country near you. I’ve been waiting for this next step in the wrong direction for a long time now. People need to understand that the whole economic crisis was created to force a global (private) bank upon us all. How does it feel to be enslaved with you own money? All our countries lost their sovereignty when they joined the EU (who are currently controlled by corporations and private bank interest, it’s partitioned off and allot of people don’t have a clue what their helping to create and are conned in believing global government is the best option for the people). Please for the future of your children and their children, please go out and look for the fact’s at the moment we still have the power to spread the truth online and true other platforms, if we do not act we will lose that right sooner then we might expect. Support organizations that spread the truth like wikileaks, infowarsdotcom.

  6. avatar
    can kontaş

    europe needs turkey to get out of this big sink, eu has to get bigger ,we have to come up against india n china

  7. avatar

    I have the impression that the debate about the admission of Balkan countries in the European Union does not resolve itself only in economic/market issues.
    First of all, for at least three Balkan Countries (Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo), the entrance in the EU still represents the only viable way out from the deadlocks in Bosnia and Kosovo, with two virtuous consequences: on the one hand, to demonstrate that so-called ethnic struggles can be resolved by union and shared rules instead of division and separation; on the other, to bury the enduring stereotypes about the area (“balkansko blato” and the like) recognizing them as a constituing part of the idea of Europe (instead of the opposite).
    But ,aybe we should also turn the argument upside down, saying that there could be no European Union with “white spots” or “enclaves” in its territory, being founded on the idea of “unity in differences”.
    So, in my opinion, the enlargement of EU towards Balkan state is necessary also for Europe, both to solve the problems it contributed to create in Balkans and to fulfill it very ideology.

  8. avatar
    Ioannis Michaletos

    The European Union is in dire straights, in its most frightening crisis since its ineption back in the 50’s.

    The debt crisis is the most obvious peril, but also the changing geopolitical environment in North Africa-Middle East and in other neighboring regions. In addittion, Europe is getting smaller in numbers, its social cohesion is in question and its antagonists are accelerating the pace of their technological advancement and their commercial expansion in expense of the European market (i.e China)

    The only logical assumption that one could make, is for Europe to seek for strategic alliance that share similar problems, face challenges of the same nature and cause and can offer competititve advantages to the European economy.

    Its time for the EU to embrace in all terms the two other pillars of the “North hemisphere”. USA-North America and Russia-Eurasia.

    There is simply no other option viable but for an enlargement (in a wider context) with these two regions that can offer both security and natural resources to the ageing and defensive Europe.

    How can this be achieved by taking into account all other factors that may potentially forbid such as “Grand move”?

    Well, I am not a politician therefore I can only state my mind and perhaps even consult. The rest is up to the people that are elected and paid adequately (Sic) to make the initiaves.

    Time is running sort, due to the speeding process of globalization and the ease in communication, transport and the frantic techlogical advance.

    Its high time for some “real” desicion making-process in Brussels and elsewhere.

    Post Scriptum

    I deliberately used language more inspirational and dramatic rather than technocratic and moderate. I hope this is viewed as a call of worry and a signal for action rather than an attempt to impress. In any case we are all in Europe at the crossroad of history. Let us hope that this time the right decisions will be made, and lets not forget that Europe still remains the “center” of the planet in all terms, therefore what is being decided here will echo throughout the entire planet.

  9. avatar
    Ioannis Michaletos

    Regarding the Western Balkans in particular, its early to make a decision regarding their final integration.

    Issues such as widespread corruption and organized crime structures that penetrate the highest echelons of local power, simply do not conform with the EU norms and rules. Unless these issue are addressed via the complete wipe out in political and social terms of those distruptive criminal elements, no EU succession would be positive and would just migitate the problem to othe EU states.

    Hopefuly, in the coming years, these issues will be addressed thoroughly.

  10. avatar
    Daniel Josef

    @cor wilhelmus bosma: the countries didn’t lose, but won sovereignity thoughout a common currency. before we got the euro, many european countries linked to the DM, what most people forgot, where your “sovereign” named countries used less monetary policies than today. The Bundesbank was the european leading index, nowadays it’s the EZB, where everybody is working on! alwaysl these striking and feeble arguments!

  11. avatar
    Anata Constans

    It’s only a temporary solution …we’re doomed and we know it! And btw …selling Europe to the chinese what a great idea , the world is run by the biggest egits !

  12. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    Who can blame them if some of them are losing interest? And doesn’t it say it all? New countries are seeing the EU only as a financial anchor..Where is the vision of the founding fathers? If new countries want cash and access to the Market, or if the existing members have interests in investing or controlling new territories then it is done deal..
    Why does it have to be only about making money? you forget about the people and their wishes, and then you wonder why euroscepticism and nationalism is on the rise in Europe..Yes the Balkans are poor and they see Europe as the solution..once they face the reality of what they will have to deal and take from the EU “Heavyweights” then it will be another story..There is no solidarity among EU states, that is the truth..
    So if new states want to join EU let’s call a spade a spade and tell the truth to the people about what is all about..Personally I am all for further expansion and integration, but from what I have seen in these times of crisis, I am not so sure if I will see my vision coming true…I simple gave up hope..

  13. avatar
    Florian Pantazi

    From a EU political leadership perspective, the priority now is a deepening of the Union, not its enlargement. The sovereign debt crisis is mobilising all the financial resources available for beefing up the EFSP, making it hard – if not impossible – to finance structural adjustment programs of any magnitude for eventual new members in the Western Balkans.

    Sure, countries like Serbia and even Albania need to be offered a clear perspective and a calendar regarding accession to EU structures. They need these both for their internal political stability and for avoiding armed conflicts among themselves in the future. The EU is for them a successful model of overcoming centuries-old ethnic or religious conflicts, and of fostering economic and political cooperation among its member countries. The feeling of being overlooked by Brussels has led to some disenchantment in Belgrade and Tirana, but it is not a long term phenomenon and it is likely to pass, as soon as the EU succeeds in solving its most pressing financial concerns. 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 countrymen’s energies and aspirations ?

  14. avatar
    Ari Rusila

    All Balkan countries have their own development paths – some countries are going to join fast to EU (Croatia), some are going to do it later (Macedonia, Albania), some are maybe looking alliances from other directions (Serbia), Kosovo will be international protectorate – a quasi-state captured by organized crime tribes – also next decade; Bosnia will totter between breakup, federation/confederation, state, protectorate depending inner politics and exterior influences.

    Related to EU integration from Serbian point of view I could imagine that they are considering following questions in their heads: Are European perspective and EU membership the same? Are benefits from joining to EU bigger or less than being outside it? Is there any alternative strategic alliances to EU?

    My estimation still is that there will be some Grey area between non- and full EU membership called e.g. “privileged partnership” which now is on planning stage to solve question about Turkey.

    From my point of view Serbia should think if joining to EU is worth of time, money and bureaucracy it demands. Visa arrangements, free trade and some EU programs are possible also for non-members. However I think that at this moment it would be good idea to continue EU process but not because of fulfilling EU needs. The motivation should be the needs of the beneficiaries aka Serbs not EU elite in Brussels. Also from my point of view Serbia should not put all eggs in the same basket; economical cooperation with Russia and other BRIC countries can create real development on the ground instead slow development on the EU’s negotiation tables.

    More e.g. in my post Serbia’s EU association is not a Must –

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