European 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.