After the presentation of the BiEPAG (Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group) policy paper “The Unfulfilled Promise: Completing the Balkan Enlargement” in Sarajevo on 15th of May 2014, the results of this joint project of the European Fund for the Balkans and the Centre for Southeast European Studies were presented in front of the Belgrade public during the press conference and the panel discussion held in the Media Center on 30th of May, 2014.
The press conference had Hedvig Morvai (Executive Director, European Fund for the Balkans), Florian Bieber (Director, Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz) and Marko Kmezic (Senior Researcher, Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz) as speakers in the presentation of this policy paper and its 4 scenarios about the future of the EU Enlargement of the Western Balkans.
– This research and the policy documents came out as a result of the joint research project with the Center for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz and the members of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group. As 11 years have passed after the Thessaloniki Agreement and 10 since the report for the International Commission on the Balkans without any significant changes, we thought that it is a right moment to present this policy paper which can be used in the new and more seriously addressed process of EU Enlargement in the Western Balkans. We have concluded that we are part of a good process which should be reformed, because in opposite it can lead to unwanted developments. I like to stress out that the goal of this analysis is not only the EU Integration, but the reforms and the changes in the countries in the region. After the publication, the first presentation was in Sarajevo and now in Belgrade. In the following period we will continue to present the paper in the EU countries and the main stakeholders in the EU Insitutions and the Accession countires in order to help the process – said Hedvig Morvai.
Marko Kmezic, a senior researcher at the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz, who together with Florian Bieber (Director of the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz, Austria) gave the main input, also presented the team of researchers who participated in the creation of this policy documents by infusing some ‘new blood’ and ideas – Leon Malazogu (Director at Democracy for Development Institute, Kosovo), Corina Stratulat (Senior Policy Reseacher, European Policy Centre, Belgium), Dimitar Bechev( Head of the Sofia Office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, Bulgaria), Vedran Dzihic (Assistant Professor at the Institute for Poltical Sciences at the University of Vienna, Austria), Dejan Jovic (Professor of International Relations at University of Zagreb Faculty for Political Studies, Croatia).
Kmezic presented the 4 possible scenarios for the Future of the EU Enlargement in the Western Balkans. The first scenario, called the “Business as usual” implies a continuation of the gradual and slow accession of the Western Balkan countries, which includes even more strict requirements for membership which many states are not able to respond to, as well as continued tolerance of the bilateral obstacles and blockade of the EU integration process in some countries.
– The region is faced with ever more difficult conditions for membership in the EU, for which it was not ready and may not be ready yet. This approach is not helpful for some countries that are completely blocked, as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosovo. It actually brings the countries to the wall and does not present opportunities for growth – explained Marko Kmezic, Senior researcher at the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz.
The second scenario, called “Following Turkey’s Path: Alienation from the EU” assumes a continuation of the negotiation process without any significant developments, which will make the political elites in the region and the citizens to understand that the possibility for membership in the EU is very small. However, unlike Turkey, which managed to grow into a self-sustainable economy by focusing on its internal development, in this case the Balkan countries will be doomed to regress and decline. The third “Abandoning Enlargement and New Unpredictability in the Western Balkans” or the so-called “Ukranian Scenario” involves the abandonment of the EU enlargement and creating uncertainty in the Western Balkans. According to this scenario, the continuing crisis in the EU and the resistance to the further enlargement, could lead to involvement of other global actors in the region, such as Russia or Turkey. The Balkans could become a collateral victim of the competition on the world political stage. Moving to other actors is not by itself bad because it can bring short-term economic benefits, but the long-term departure of the EU path cannot bring economic, political and democratic stability. Only the fourth scenario “The Balkans Big Bang” provides new dynamics of the EU enlargement to the Western Balkans, but it can be seen as improbable without any significant changes of the Brussels policy, which now states that there will not be any shortcuts for the new member states.
The concern, however is in the fact that currently 53 percent of the European Union member states citizens are against further enlargement, and only 36 percent support the expansion, which inevitably discourages the political stakeholders in Brussels to take decisive steps towards the integration of the Western Balkans.
The director of the Center for Research of Southeast Europe Florian Bieber in his overview of the BiEPAG analysis, said that the new European Commission will have to make a new strategy and plan for the future enlargement. He explained that the aim of this publication is to create recommendations for Brussels and the countries in the region in order to make the European integration process more efficient.
“We need to start the talks with all the countries in the region, and the conditions at the beginning should be moved to the end of the negotiations, because the negotiations themselves have the potential to resolve some internal issues in the candidate countries. A common policy for the bilateral disputes that can block the process of enlargement in the case of some countries is also needed-said Bieber.
Competition reforms in the countries of the region, in his opinion, are the key to a better paced progress towards the EU, but this can only happen if the certainty of membership is confirmed in the political practice.
In the panel discussion that followed Sonja Stojanovic Gajic (Director of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy) and Srdjan Majstorovic (Deputy Director, Office for European Integration of the Government of the Republic of Serbia) expressed their support to this important project and the policy documents, which should receive wider attention, promotion and discussion in the next period.
Sonja Stojanovic Gajic noted that the 4 scenarios from the policy paper “Unfulfilled Promise: Completing the Balkan Enlargement” managed to capture the collective unconscious notions about this process.
– I believe that this analysis is a good mixture of the collective and analytic understanding of the future developments in the region. According to this paper, 2 problems are detected as crucial – the non-credible promise of the EU in regard of the Enlargement of he Western Balkans and the deterioration in the process of the democratization of the countries in the region. The main recommendations are also in sync with the scenarios and I believe that the reforms should continue in positive manner and the membership should be presented as a tangible goal for each of the Western Balkans countries- said Sonja Stojanovic Gajic.
Srdjan Majstorovic (Deputy Director, Office for European Integration of the Government of the Republic of Serbia) believes in the process of EU Enlargement and sees it as a successful one. According to him, the Enlargement won’t be an insignificant element in the future regional and global policy of the EU.
– It is understandable that it won’t be a priority, but still it will still continue to be a powerful mechanism of the European Union. I also believe that the new commissioner for EU Enlargement would not be a person without character. Some of the names that were mentioned as successors of the previous commissioner are a good signal that it will definitely be someone who will have a drive and will to help the region. For the sake of the public debate, we should wait and see who will that be. I still believe that the EU Enlargement process has friends in the European circles and parliamentarians – said Majstorovic.
(The whole press conference and panel discussion in Serbian is available at the following link http://www.mc.rs/mc-web-televizija.1498.html )