The process of enlargement has been long considered as a powerful tool of the European Union policy. This enlargement process has helped countries of Central and Eastern Europe to turn from communist regimes to countries with a functional democracy.
This process seemed to have inspired those few reforms that have been carried out in Western Balkan countries and beyond and there was a general idea that all Europeans would benefit by having neighbors who had a sustainable democracy and a prosperous economy.
But, the truth is different. Many analysts and experts of European economic integration say that things are not going very well for Europe and the crisis that it is going through in many aspects, is the biggest one in all of its history.
Imminent professor Jean-Yves Letessier rightly underlines that “under these conditions, it can be said that in the absence of joint and prompt political answers for the serious tensions which are shaking Europe, the continuity of the unique experience of integration is threatened”.
The integration of ten new countries on 1 May 2004, seven of which were formerly under the influence of the Soviet Union, was not welcomed very warmly by member countries, but the fact that the integration of Bulgaria and Romania on 1 January 2007 was realized in an atmosphere of indifference and even skepticism, says a lot about the weakening of European identity.
Then, Slovenia became member on 1 January 2007 followed by Cyprus and Malta on 1 January 2008, but these events were mostly ignored by the media. Enthusiasm was lacking even on Croatia’s accession.
Europeans are still facing problems with Romanians and Bulgarians who are involved in criminal activities or work in the black market.
Expert of European affairs, Charles Kupchan says that the referendum in favor of Brexit, the efforts to stress Poland’s and Hungary’s national sovereignty, the weakest result since 1945 for the conservatives led by chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany and the spreading of the extreme right there, have increased fears that too much national sovereignty is refused by Brussels.
“We are experiencing the start of the end of Europe and the return to a Europe with individual states, which practice a strong sovereignty with closed borders”, he says, adding that the wave of emigrants, unemployment, threats from terrorism and the revival of Russia, are threatening this organization.
But even more worrying is the Greek crisis and other economic crises in the EU member countries, which need to be overcome with the money coming from Germany, France and other member countries.
Is the EU interested on importing the problems of the Balkans?
The answer is clear: a big no. While the previous integration of several less developed countries was balanced by several incontestable economic recoveries, today, such situation is nonexistent.
Europe is facing a slowdown of economic growth. This is why this process is being prolonged. FYROM has been granted the EU candidate status 13 years ago, Albania too, while Serbia and Kosovo must engage in long talks about the so called technical issues.
Meanwhile, Turkey has been granted the candidate status more than two decades ago, but it still standing in front of the gates of Europe.
Brussels admits that Western Balkans is a special challenge for the European Union.
The policy of enlargement must demonstrate this region’s power of transformation, where its states have fragile democracies and tense cross ethnic relations. A convincing political perspective for the final integration of the EU is decisive to keep the reforms on the right tracks. But, it is also clear that these countries may become EU members only when they have fully delivered the criteria.
The current leadership in the countries of the region is not demonstrating maturity and responsibility in exerting the state’s functions.
These are abnormalities which should be addressed and this will only happen when the entire region is led by a new political class, which reflects civil and democratic values.
Otherwise, another “red card” by the European Union for Western Balkans will be the next hard blow which proves the fragility of the region in all institutional and social spheres. But this will also have consequences for European countries. In front of this situation, Balkan countries cannot claim that they belong to the European family, which promotes democracy, human rights, cross ethnic tolerance, etc. In the future, this region must at all costs open itself toward democratic values and principles offered by the European Union, because this is the only way there will be more freedom for it and the aspirations for accession in the European family will be more hopeful. /balkaneu.com/