The will as well as resilience of the region to counter malign influence of foreign actors and strengthen democratic political culture are weakening amid growing disappointment and frustration with the slow pace of results on the fulfillment of the common vision expressed in "The Declaration of the Zagreb Summit” in November of 2000. Two decades later, under Croatia’s presidency of the European Council, there will be an EU-Western Balkans summit in Zagreb, which will be crucial moment for shaping a coherent and unified approach in relation to the region.
Lack of meaningful domestic reforms in our region have certainly contributed to this pace, but also increasing difficulty of the EU to speak with one voice towards the Western Balkans. The societies in our region have been subject to geopolitical games and experimentation for far too long. The Western Balkans seems withered and more cynical towards European integration process as a force of transformation. The region requires inspiration, and to do this, two leaps of faith are necessary. The EU must take a leap of faith towards Albania and North Macedonia and Kosovo, and Serbia and Kosovo must take a leap of faith towards each other. In the upcoming meeting of the European Council this month (march), the issue of enlargement is in the agenda. This presents a unique opportunity to inspire the Western Balkans and to boost the morale of the societies.
The European Commission has been very clear on that both Albania and North Macedonia have shown tangible results and therefore the “recommendation to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia remains valid”. Similarly, the EC has confirmed that their 2016 recommendation for visa liberalization for Kosovars also remains valid. Member States of the EU must take a leap of faith towards Albania and North Macedonia, as well as Kosovo. This is not to imply that they are giving a hand-out to these countries or become complacent vis-à-vis the challenges they face. As a matter of fact, as much as this leap of faith of the EU member States would be towards the region, it would also be towards its own institutions, mainly the European Commission.
The EU has been overzealous in benchmarks and technicalities towards the region which has come to the detriment of the power of inspiration that the European integration process has. There needs to be some balance to the necessity of meeting criteria with the essential aspect of the process of inspiring the aspirations of the society to transform and better themselves. Now that the French have had their way with a “new” methodology, there needs to be a focus on the inspiration aspect of the European integration process, so that it is not increasingly seen in a cynical context as a political-ideological game. This harms EU’s efforts to expand its normative framework as well as build partnerships. When the EU announces decisions on accession talks for Albania and North Macedonia or visa liberalization for Kosovo, they are speaking directly to the societies of these countries, and not only to their governments. From our perspective, potential ‘no’ to the expectations of the three countries, will be effectively saying we are not worth a European label, and not matter what these countries will do, will never be good enough.
As noted by Ivan Krastev: “One Balkan joke best captures the mindset of people who feel they’ve been left waiting far too long: when it comes to EU membership, the difference between pessimists and optimists is that optimists believe Turkey will join during the Albanian EU presidency, while pessimists believe Albania will join during the Turkish EU presidency. Meaning: never.” This joke also seems to best capture, a disturbing cultural/religious bias to European integration process that unearths unwritten rules. People in Kosovo are increasingly feeling that there must be something more than just rule of law informing the positions of some member States vis-à-vis the country and its aspirations.
Another significant leap of faith would be between Kosovo and Serbia. Every conversation about an agreement between the two countries is dominated by extremes. Consequently, all potential solutions inevitably lead to a mission impossible. This is a dangerous trap. It seems that the agenda is to make any scenario of resolution of Kosovo-Serbia disputes so outrages, that ‘no solution is a solution’ potentially becomes an unwritten position of the international society, turning Kosovo into a limbo. Both countries must take a leap of faith towards each other, which is clearly easier said than done.
In cooperation of two web portals, Remarker and Sbunker, a series of analysis will be published in the upcoming period in order to promote a critical debate on the current situation in the region of the Western Balkans.
After last messages received from one of the most influential members of the EU, France, the region has faced one of the greatest challenges in the last 30 years, when countries in the Western Balkans began their difficult path, first into conflicts and then in the process of democratization and european integration.
The goal of Remarker and Sbunker is to support better understanding of the current trends in the countries of the Western Balkans and raise the awareness on necessity of european integration process, straightening the process of democratization and the rule of law as necessary preconditions for permanent peace and stability in the region.
You may find the Albanian version here and the Serbian version here.