By Muhamer Pajaziti
For a long time, the expansion process was considered to be a very powerful tool of the EU policy and this has helped for the transformation of former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe to modern functional democracies. This process had inspired reforms in the Western Balkan countries and it was generally accepted that Europeans would profit by having neighbours with a more sustainable and prosperous economy.
Even today, it’s very important for the EU to carefully manage the process of expansion which helps peace, stability, prosperity, democracy, human rights and rule of law all over Europe. But the reality is different. Many analysts and experts of European economic integration admit that Europe is in a bad position and that the crisis that it’s going through in many aspects, is the most serious one in history.
In 2018, the European Union had many problems, starting with the talks for Brexit, trade conflicts with the US, political fragmentation within itself with the growth of right wing parties and many other problems in decision making.
All of these problems are causing a serious damage to the process of its expansion. Meanwhile, right wing parties, which have openly contested the accession of new states, including Balkan countries, in the European Union, may win more support in the 2019 EU elections.
Latest political studies suggest that from 10%, the number of right wing radicals and populists in the European Parliament may grow to 20%, which means double and these parties may delay the process of integration and reforms as much as possible.
Under these circumstances, are the EU countries and the EU itself ready to accept Western Balkan countries in such an atmosphere filled with so many contestations and debates?
The answer to this will certainly depend on the leadership of these countries, which needs to make more efforts for good neighbouring relations and to address all pending issues. This could include the dispute between Greece and Macedonia on the issue of the name, which is soon expected to be finalized.
If this issue is ratified by the respective parliaments, it could act as a good model for the relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
But the principle of good neighbouring relations is not the only thing. Under the new EU strategy, Western Balkan countries should complete all urgent reforms set out by the European Commission.
This process will be very difficult, because the countries of the region have not even been able to deliver the convergence criteria; their economies are weak, they have high public debt, high deficit, high inflation and high unemployment.
What’s more, these countries also deal with strained relations between different ethnic group and a mass exodus of young people.
Delivering these tasks requires a new and professional leadership in order to keep the European reforms in the right path. Otherwise, the “red card” that the European Union will issue to the Western Balkans will act as another hard blow which proves the fragility of this region in all institutional and social aspects. But this will also have serious consequences for European member countries too. If this situation is not overcome, Balkan countries cannot pretend they belong to the European family, where democracy, human rights, tolerance and many other values are promoted.
The region should open itself toward the democratic values and principles that the European Union offers, because this is the only way to promote freedom and to aspire for integration in the European family.