Veto after Veto: EU Enlargement Is Dead, What Follows Instead?
The principle, according to which the reforms pave the way to EU membership is no longer in force for the countries of the Western Balkans, writes the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper in an extensive analysis cited by Deutsche Welle and BTA.
No one has understood this more clearly than the Republic of North Macedonia, which even changed its name at Greece's request so that it could start negotiations with the EU. After the Greek veto, however, French one followed, then Bulgarian, this time because of the history and language of the Slav Macedonians.
The enlargement process abounds with political traps that have little to do with the reformist efforts of the candidate countries, the author of the analysis says.
The Balkans are no longer surprised, since French President Emmanuel Macron made it clear in Belgrade July 2019 that the EU will not welcome new members until it reforms itself.
We are reminded that this is not a new story - as early as 2005, the Berlin Foundation for Science and Policy (SWP) noted in its publication the "growing fatigue from enlargement" further asking "is full EU membership really the only option for long-term stabilisation" of the Western Balkan countries.
"This question sounds more topical than ever," notes author Michael Martens.
"If membership is not real, how then should the EU deal with the region? How to maintain its influence and stand up to political rivals like Russia, China and Turkey? There are a lot of ideas, many are not new," he adds.
One of these concepts was published in The New York Times as early as May 2003 by the then prime ministers of Serbia and Albania and the presidents of Croatia and Macedonia. At the time, they asked to let the countries of the Western Balkans have access to EU cohesion funds, that is to say, to be financially treated as members of the EU even though they do not have the right to vote in Brussels, the newspaper reminds.
Dusan Relic, head of the SWP representation in Brussels, also spoke to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
"The population of the Western Balkans does not exceed 3.5 percent of the total population in the EU. If measured according to economic strength, the importance of the region is even less. Therefore, we are not talking about large sums of money, but only about a total of three billion euros per year at the most.
However, structural financial incentives, if properly applied, can set in motion a lot of things in the region," Relic points out.
He also warns that large parts of the region are dying out because of migrating population, especially towards the EU, and financial support is needed to prevent this.
Relic also says that without economic strengthening of the middle class, strengthening the rule of law is out of the question.
The analysis notes that the countries of the region are economically oriented to the EU, about three-quarters of their trade turnover is with the Union.
The author reminds that Turkey, Russia and China, whose influence in the Balkans is often commented on in dramatic terms, economically play almost no role in the region, except for Moscow in the energy sector.
"No one in the region believes in the initial form of the enlargement process anymore, so new approaches need to be discussed," Martens wrote in conclusion.
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