western-balkansLater 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.

51 comments Post a commentcomment

  1. avatar
    Nikolai Holmov

    Well thanks to those ministers who didn”t actually answer my question other than to all but state it’s too late were on the path to whatever the EU will eventually turn out to be. That much I accepted before they told me. What they didn’t say in any detail is what they thought the EU would turn out to be and how they will be able to shape that from the outside before they eventually gain entry.

    As for the question of east or west looking for the Balkans, the question is asked like a zero sum game – which it isn’t. It is not black and white.

    Bilateral relations and dealing with the nations of the east are exactly that unless it contravenes EU rules. There is nothing to stop any EU nation dealing extensively with the nations of the east, far more than their EU brethren in fact, as long as it is done within the EU policy framework for its members.

    Ergo there is nothing to prevent the Balkans entering the EU and having a major trade, business and economic relationship with the eastern nations theoretically.

    Which is the only nation that China sits down with regularly nation to nation at cabinet level? Germany. Who is Russia’s biggest EU trading partner? Germany.

    Which compass point do Russia and China sit upon in politico geography?

    Why should the Balkans also not have major eastern trading, business and investment whilst still heading into the EU?

  2. avatar
    Malcolm Seychell

    For every country to succeed it has to move away from the European Union model. The EU promotes the madness of diversity, gives grants to countries who fail instead of those who move forward, is led by banks, its not democratic, it is bankrupt, it created 2 generations of people who wants only rights and no obligations, tolerates criminality etc etc. So Europe is a failed continent

  3. avatar
    Unimatriks Ziro

    The question is superfluous. Serbia has always looked Eastwards and their proness to Russia is obvious and natural… In a way it’s similar to the UK that has never wholeheartedly embraced the membership (looking Westwards (USA) and elsewards(former colonies) :) )

  4. avatar
    Sunny Cvitkovic Anderson

    I think Slovenia and Croatia should be the last countries joining EU from this part of the world. Big NO NO for serbia, they already work closely with Russia, politically and economically. They belong with them, not in western world. For the rest of the countries would be much better to look Eastwards.

  5. avatar
    Corpus Diplomaticus

    Despite similar orientations in geopolitical values and interests, the Western Balkans is in the stage of fragmentation because of its past heritage and transition problems regarding integration in the EU.The rule of the game is that countries that comply with EU conditions are rewarded with closer relations with the EU and eventual membership,so EU has decisive role, should not repeat the same story likewise Greece which joined EU by making financial fraud. Western Balkan countries should accepted only if they complete full criteria and help the Union gets stronger.

  6. avatar
    Hugo Gonzalez de Oliveira

    I think that, with the economical and financial crisys in E.U., that they will not accept any new menbers for the next years (or decade). I think that the best for the western balkan countries is to look to themselves before they look afterwards…First they need to solve a lot of isues, and advance with the creation of mechanisms that allow them to create an economical zone (a bit like the EFTA). That way, as a bloc, they can negociate better the trade agreements with all the other countries (or the inclusion on the E.U.)

  7. avatar
    Michael Tsikalakis

    Where is the European spirit? Certainly not eastwards. Balkans are European countries and they should be accepted as such. Now is the time for EU to declare once and for all the borders of Europe.

  8. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    Os estados membros da UE podem e devem descutir o alargamento da UE agora os estados dos Balcãs Ocidentais tem que tomar as suas medidas de direitos humanos essas é uma das principais regas da UE os paises dos Balcãs podem investir dentro do espaço da UE hoje e no futuro a UE tem o mercado Unico mais lucrativo do Mundo a história da Russia e da China são paises com politicas que não respeitam os direitos humanos e ambientais

  9. avatar
    Daniel Pintilie

    Well, not everything is about economy… there are some details like human rights, freedom of speech, etc. that matter as much for some people… I dont think any of those countries can compare with EU on this level… unless money is more important than those details, then again you have better chances to make great business with them. But Western Balkans should choose EU as they will benefit more than being on their own. But that’s their choice, not ours to make.

  10. avatar
    Sunny Cvitkovic Anderson

    Daniel Pintilie, really? So getting rid of the gypsies in France is respect of the human rights? Or not giving any rights to minorities, while EU pushed unbelievable minority rights in Croatia? You would be surprised with the level of human rights in Croatia.

  11. avatar
    Igor Zunamenko

    Eastwards…Westwards… What’s next…skywards??? Europe must be European. That’s the point!!! By the way, I like that “at the rising economies” of yours :)))

  12. avatar
    Hasan Özdemir

    Ms.Anderson, the problem of Gypsies in France is not interest the respect of human rights in my opinion. The problem is a cultural orientation for the system of the Rule of Law .Because the lifestyle of them results an available environment for every kind of crimes. Every bad lifestyle ruins an other lifestyle. But the problem of Gypsies in Slovenia is interest obviously to the respect of human rights. Therefore European Court of Human Rights concluded a pilot case on them.

  13. avatar
    Eva Peña

    They must decide whether they are ready to accept and implement EU values and acquis. For better or for worse the answer is not just economical, but political and ethical as well…

  14. avatar
    George Vakos

    I think western balkan states should keep looking to the west. An aliance both economic and political with Asian countries has many obstacles regarding culture, religion, lifestyle and geography. On the other hand EU member states should proceed to their intergration in the Union.

  15. avatar
    Malcolm Seychell

    Europpe is changing. With millions of muslims it will change for less human rights, less tolerance etc. Only our stupid leaders in Europe are not defending our identity and values. The future is China, India and South America.. Europe is finished. An ageing population and lazy young people

  16. avatar
    Vicente Silva Tavares

    There is indeed a difference between Western and Eastern Europe. I remember when I studied the Diplomatic History of Europe, that when the Human Rights Declaration was signed in France by several countries, the Eastern countries signed a similar declaration: The Rights of the Princes. No wonder democracy still is not the basis of their Governments. The question is, Russia is a commodities country, but the future belongs to whom have the technology. The major issues of Europe is demography and a very low birth rates, and extremely low custom tariffs, allowing to be invaded by cheap goods manufactured by over-exploited workers.

  17. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    I would like to see them in EU at some stage, but the way things are at the moment I do not see that happening anytime soon… They had more chances to join quickly if they stayed united. Yugoslavia had a much better economy than Greece or Portugal, it could have joined already and be done with it. Now we have a Bosnia that is fragile, a Kosovo that is not recognized by many EU states, an Albania that is widely unwanted and misunderstood, FYROM that does not want to solve the name dispute with Greece, a Serbia that is loathed or being seen as suspicious by many European states…..Only Montenegro has potential for a quick EU entry after Croatia… Will Europe be able to solve or the problems stemming out of sheer nationalism and memories of the very recent tragedies unfolded during the wars? And is it willing to do so anymore? Can Europe solve all issues? And if yes, will the countries still be willing to compromise to meet Europe’s demands? EU accession for the Western Balkans will be a long a difficult process, and by the end of it, if it is ever achieved many states might just chose to turn towards Russia, America or elsewhere for a quick solution…..

  18. avatar
    Chiara Maruccia

    As I see it, West and East are two worlds apart, both beautiful to discover and to learn by, but too different to become part of the same unit . It’s possible to build up reasonable dialogues thanks to diplomacy and cultural mediation, but the weakest link for durable ties here, are core values, perhaps not compatible one with the other.

  19. avatar

    The answer to the question is in fact quite simple.

    The Balkans has historically been the dividing line between the east and west , the left wing of politics and the right, orthodox Christian’s and the Catholics, the Austro Hungarian empire and the Ottoman Empire, etc, etc.

    Each of the FYR states and other Non EU western Ballkan states will align themselves based on historlric alegences ie those that have been more aligned to the west will favour and should continue to push for EU submission, like Croatia, the current state of affairs of the EU will not and should not deter them as there are many quantitative and qualitative benefits in being part of the western bloc.

    The others will align themselves to the east and in particular the Russian position and therefore will not push as hard and will not see the merits of EU membership particularly when it comes to human rights issues and transparency.

    It in fact will be a self regulating situation, who said history doesn’t repeat itself or has no bearing on the future!

  20. avatar
    Daniel Pintilie

    @ Sunny Cvitkovic Anderson: Croatia was not “pushed” to respect the human rights hence minorities rights, because it’s part of being member of EU to do that. Yes, there are still member states that go over board and forget about these but EU is there to remind them. EU is not a dictatorship, it cannot go and tell MS what to do, EU can act only according to the rules it has. But I was not comparing EU to Croatia, but to Russia, China and India. I guess the choice is clear. Yes, EU is far from perfect but at least you have the least chances to be discriminated. That does not mean it won’t happen. Especially when you are an immigrant. But you have more chances to fight these compared to other countries. Otherwise, we would see a lot of immigrants from EU going to Russia, India or China. And in Europe, we need now more than ever to respect human rights, because the more they don’t get respected in other countries the more we need to show them that we need to respect them.

  21. avatar
    Omar Benazzouz

    Eastward or Westward… i believe it such stupidity to be looking just to one direction! people should look wider

  22. avatar
    Augustine Okoawoh

    The westward don’t have anything to offer anymore only corruption and fake promises and they always try to control others, and they live with other people’s money they are trying to provoke another world war for them not to pay their debt so it will be better for the Balkans to follow another model

  23. avatar
    Augustine Okoawoh

    This is eu of discrimination where minority right are not respected eu of deception where the population don’t even have trust on their future because there is non anymore

  24. avatar
    Michele Vanolli

    I think that the EU should be open to the Balkans countries.
    It’s true that at this moment there are many problems of economy in the EU, but this isn’t a good reason to stop European integration.
    I’m sure that a enlargment of the UE is a good opportunity to deepen UE.

  25. avatar
    Erdélyi István

    Russia provided a stabile living standard, nowadayas hundreds of enterpreneurs commit suicide. Russia helped Hungary to build an own industry. There was a flourishing farming. There was not any Gipsy problem, there was a full empolyment. In the last 21 years the agriculture has been lost. Russia provided market for the Hungarian products. The national property has been vanished in the last 20 years. The last twenty years did only prove that the Russians were real gentlemen in comparison to the gentlemen of the “market economy.” Many thinks in Hungary that in the last 20 years there was the most shameless colonization against Hungary. :-) From the Western world mainly the sht was brought to Hungary in the past two decades. :-) Russia, China and India seem to be long-term partners for the development of social life and economy. :-) And “the Western champions of democracy” — ridiculous and catastropal..:-)

  26. avatar
    Limbidis Adrian

    No, enlargement should wait.
    The EU should digest first what it has swallowed – Romania and Bulgaria brought enough problems already and we need to fix those ( while those people still hold the EU in high value ).
    Greece is not looking good, SPain either and now we are hearing rumors that FRANCE itself may be starting to have…problems.

    Let’s not be greedy here. If they want to join the EU they will have patience. They have waited so much, a few more years won’t kill them.

  27. avatar
    catherine benning

    This nation can look where they like as long as they are not looking at me to foot the bill for their aspirations. Or, plan to come in their droves to the UK in their quest to raise their standard of living by taking the Brits to the cleaners.

    My suggestion is, if the European Commissioners want to fill the continent with poor states, they should consider as a priority a minimum of fifty per cent of their salaries and expenses go into a kitty needed to do this. That way they may take more notice of the outcome of their profligacy.

  28. avatar
    Jokera Jokerov

    All should be looking towards the global economy and not confined within the sclerotic restrictions of the EU.

  29. avatar
    catherine benning

    Now, what is it you are accusing me of exact;u?. Being a Brit does not make me leader of my country, and neither does it make me in line with what those who lead my country do.

    However, double standards means what to you? It is you who has the double standard, not I. The first being, you want wealth, yet, you despise those who have it, even though you want a piece of their action. That is a double standard.

    The Balkans are not showing any signs of being an asset to the European community. Yet, you want to have us spend our tax payers money on funding the inept. Which, if we were in a good financial situation may be a call worth listiening to. But, do remember this, Europe is bankrupt why would you want to increase the level of debt we already have? If we cannot get back on our feet, then none of you outside Europe, along with those inside Europe, Greece, Spain, Portugal et al, can or will gain a foothold in the recovery. Do you feel that is fair to those people who have fought for the union the best way they could?
    They are suffering, why do you want to increase their suffering by wanting us to be further in debt by taking in yet another impoverished nation?

    In fact, you would have killed the goose that lays the golden eggs. Silly man, use your head.

  30. avatar
    Stephane Czajkowski

    You may not agree with their political action, but do not compare Miss Merkel with a nazi! It is insulting, at the limit of racism !

  31. avatar
    Nikos Sarikas

    Hope E.U will fall apart.Its for people that allready have money Banks and Big companies.Only they benefit with E.U currency.Countries voted for creating-joining this Union for the best of their countries.For the best of their people.For making a step forward each other.To forget all what happend in teh past and move on to a better future.I think thats what your politicians sayed in EVERY country that you live.All countries had to deal with each other using the same currency,having the same ideas and All this using DEMOCRACY.What in hell happent in 11-12 years?Do you really think that this is E.U that you dreamed of????Do you think you have democracy???Do you think that you are free???And whats wrong for calling Merkel a Nazi?Germans tried the first time 100 years ago and again 60years ago starting 2 W.W to conquer all europe using weapons….Now they do the same using other weapons….economical weapons.Dont like this???Wait until they break into your house-country.The same shit in Europe every 50years!!!

  32. avatar
    Nikolay Kosev

    Why should they look at the West? Look what happened to Bulgaria – fake promises and zero compensations for making the bulgarian government to cut off the main power source of the country. Why should the Western Balkans look at Western Europe when the only thing the West gives them are fake hopes for a better life.

  33. avatar

    What is this ‘European spirit’ you mentioned, Michael?

    All I can see is countries that want to take money from my country and people who want to come here and undercut locals by willing to work for lower wages. Where’s the benefit? I didn’t benefit, maybe some corporation did with cheaper labor (hiring a Pole at 25k instead of a local here at 37k).

    The only reason they all want in is money. Countries want to squeeze money out of us, people want to undercut us to gain jobs at our expense and politicians want unelected income tax exempt Brussels jobs.

  34. avatar
    Sjoerd DeLeeuw

    How can we even talk about Serbia joinng the EU while Serbia is rehabilitating all the war criminals and people that were part of the fascist system in the 90s?Serbia is whitewashing history and denying genocide and other war crimes as we speak and the EU is negotiating with Serbia and even cooperating with the same fascists that are back in power even after they killed thousands and thousands of people.EU carries almost as much guilt for the Srebrenica Genocide as Serbia does because EUlet it happen and now EU is again looking the other way as Serbian ultranationalists are planning to do it all again if given a chance.

  35. avatar

    Serbian officials keep talking that they love Russia as their friends and brothers, but EU is the way to go. That’s what they say but EU is not that close.
    Serbia and Kosovo will not join soon, because of their dispute. Kosovo is not fully recognized as an independent country, without peace with Serbia they will not be able to join at all. Bosnia has no European perspective because they have their own internal disputes all the time. Bosnia is too fragile and a potential crisis area. Macedonia has a name problem with Greece, and potentially unstable because of a big Albanian minority. Albania still has a long way to go.
    Only Montenegro has a perspective to join in the next decade and a nice fact that their membership will depend on them alone. Albania also depends on themselves. Other countries are not that lucky.
    I don’t think they will look eastward, they will look primarely at themselves.They might found a new entity, customs and trading union, and tighten relationship between them. Albania and Serbia will be the key players in the union. Russia will have some influence in the union, mainly through Serbia. But there are Albania and Kosovo as western allies.

    • avatar

      i do not think montenegro either hehe :p :/

  36. avatar
    Dinko Dinev

    There could never be true union on the Balkans. It is true that the people are in general not that different, close to border lines they go along just fine. The reason is mainly due to lack of long term vision of the leaders of the countries in the region. It will definitely benefit them all, but they are far too proud and egocentric to overcome some past differences and conflicts. They are happier if neighbors are worse and not when they are better…

  37. avatar

    The western balkans should look where their feet are, Europe. On a long run borders are becoming less and less desirable and freedom to live in borderless and free Europe is what a bright future looks like. But since they are still not joined in the EU, maybe a short therm Eastwords actions can be beneficial, especially with China, bringing economical benefits to the region… But the sooner the better, Make Europe Europe. Free, Borderless and equal, united is always better than divided.

  38. avatar

    The EU should most certainly not let countries such as Serbia who had connections to Russia in the past and who performed massive genocide join the EU. Serbia should concentrate on the east side since they are more similar to the Russians. This is focusing on the best interest of Serbia.

  39. avatar

    Can’t comment on Facebook, why?

  40. avatar
    James Wilson

    The Balkans was always an interesting topics. As British I will quote The Greatest British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

    First Quote: Bulgaria and Serbia are the same sh*t divided by the wheel of time and Greece is the ancient mosaic from Byzantine times which survived until nowadays.

    Second Quote: The orient in Europe Begins in Bosnia and Herzegovina all the way to Baghdad in Iraq.

    The Balkans are like the middle east their faith has never been decided by themselves. For this part of Europe there was never a permanent solution. The faith of the Balkan nations was always decided, by the big European players, Russia and now the USA.

  41. avatar
    Nenad Vasilijevic

    @James Wilson

    As referring to the quotes from Mr. Winston Churchill which is one of the Greatest Brits of the 20-th century. I have the following to say about his comment.

    I can tell you difference between Bulgaria and Serbia is that Serbia supports Russia on 100%. The Bulgarians are split on support for Russia about 50 to 50.However Russia has always given support when Serbia need it and vice versa.

    The half of Bulgarians support Russia for saving them from the Ottoman Turks also known as “The Scourge Of Christian Europe” with the Liberation war. However the other half of the Bulgarians want to live like westerners by admiring the rich countries in Europe. They sympathize the West and say that there were Russian Imperialist interests behind the liberation of the country.

    The Greeks like whoever supports their cause, whether its the European Powers, Russia or The USA it does not matter for them as long as they can achieve their national goal. This national ideal is called ” The Great Greek Idea” which is basically uniting all the Greek lands from the Byzantine times with present Greece.

    In the Balkans exists a lot of Oriental culture and that is true. About 400-500 years the Balkans were under the Ottoman Turkish Yoke so its no surprise that today this cultural heritage exists.

  42. avatar

    Prior to the Cold war ex Yugoslavian constituent countries of the Crown identified them selves as part of Europe. That is that people of all ex Yugoslav countries identifie themselves as european. Post WW2 there is a notion of common heritage between Europeans and certainly ex Yugoslavian countries and Albania are a part of it. The thing is that in the Balkans the common motivational ground to accesion has been Greece. Greece is the one closest to the West of them all with Slovenia being the next because of its Austrian Heritage. Through the years Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Greece have aligned their policies which were disrupted by the Cold War. With Greece due to its alignment to the West and the rest to the East those connections fell short but were reinstated after the fall of the Iron curtain. That lead to the accesion of Bulgaria. Greece is and newly member Bulgaria will lobby for the membership of Serbia and Montenegro the least. They will also want Bosnia and Albania to join when economic criteria are met. But the fight whether the Balkan states should look eastward rather than westward is an anachronism to Cold era policies. The Balkan states are a part of Europe and as such must be treated. There is not East or west There is only Europe….We have a common life style and a common heritage.

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