Ephemeral Enlargement False EU Promises for the Balkans

Serbia. Kosovo. Montenegro. Macedonia. The European Union has held out the carrot of membership to all of them. But who in the EU wants to see the bloc get bigger? Hardly anybody.


Serbia doesn't want the EU for the time being. But the two likely have a shared destiny -- eventually.
AP

Serbia doesn't want the EU for the time being. But the two likely have a shared destiny -- eventually.

Europe is a world power. At least in principle. With the statement released on Monday by the 27 European Union foreign ministers, it has become more or less official bloc policy: Europe, the statement reads, will play a leading role in the stability of the entire Western Balkans.

In the next 120 days, some 2,000 police, judiciary experts and civil service specialists will head to the newly independent Kosovo to help establish the official framework necessary for a functioning country. Brussels has entered an elite club of those powers that have taken complete responsibility for the security and economy of a foreign territory. The only other modern-day club members are Moscow and Washington D.C.

Just how that should work in the case of Kosovo -- and the rest of the Western Balkans -- has long been a topic of brainstorming and planning sessions. The resulting strategy depends largely on two instruments: the one involves money, and the other dangles the carrot of eventual accession into the European Union. Those countries that behave themselves will first receive a package of economic aid and then, somewhere down the line, a membership ID, complete with the peace and prosperity that come with it.

The political logic is easy to follow. Offering the countries of former Yugoslavia a "European perspective," as it is referred to in the halls of Brussels, will encourage the various ethnic, religious and language groups in the region to abandon any thoughts of further bloodshed.

But there is just one catch: A number -- perhaps the majority -- of EU members are actively working against this vague promise of membership made to the Serbs, the Bosnians, the Montenegrins and the Albanians. Brussels has to walk the tightrope of offering these countries the prize of membership without actually ever giving it to them. The reason for this is clear: With the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union on Jan. 1, 2007, the group's willingness to expand further has shrunk to zero.

SPIEGEL ONLINE takes a look at the EU accession chances of each country in the crisis-prone region:

Croatia -- The Next EU Member?

Croatia is the first accession candidate in the Balkans waiting room, and as such, the first to be affected by the changed European attitude toward expansion. The country has long been told that it would join the club in 2009. But these days, few in Brussels believe Croatia will be invited to come aboard before 2011 -- and that despite accession negotiations proceeding apace. The talks began on Oct. 3, 2005 and are going well, according to a recent European Commission report. The country's economy is growing and legal reforms conforming to EU regulations are well underway.

But whereas the Commission showed a willingness to look away when assessing obvious shortcomings in both Romania and Bulgaria prior to the 2007 enlargement, fastidiousness is now the name of the game -- especially when it comes to inadequacies with the judiciary or deficiencies in battling corruption. And as the EU bureaucrats become pickier, the country's EU euphoria fades -- resulting in less of a willingness to cooperate among the country's politicians. The effects can be seen in recent clashes over fishing rights off the coast of Croatia or disputes over neighboring Slovenia's access to international waters. Zagreb is becoming less willing to compromise. Those forced to chase the carrot for too long will eventually lose their appetite.

Macedonia -- Waiting for the Neighbors?

The Macedonians are still eager to join the European Union, and the country, which lies just north of Greece, is the second official candidate for membership in the Balkans. But accession negotiations haven't even begun yet -- Brussels is playing for time here too. The country has made rapid progress in implementing a pre-accession framework program and has even taken strides toward bringing corruption under control, Brussels has noted. Solid growth with limited inflation can also be placed on the positive side of the ledger, but the EU notes ongoing political tension in the country between the Slavic majority and the Albanian minority. In short, Macedonia will not be invited to join the EU any time soon, and will likely have to wait until its neighbors are ready so that they can all join as a group.

Albania , Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina -- not ready yet

Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina all hope for a future within the EU club. But, for the moment at least, none of them are even remotely close to being ready. The judiciary and the police forces in all three countries are hardly transparent and corruption is rampant. All three are likewise having a rough time economically. Brussels is planning on having sent a total of €1 billion their way between 2007 and 2011, payments known as "pre-accession assistance." Brussels enlargement specialists speculate that the three might be ready for membership by 2015.

Serbia -- Angry Forever?

Belgrade, once capital of the diverse nation of Yugoslavia and now merely head of a shrunken Serbia, is for the moment content to pout about glory lost. Serbia is recalling its ambassadors from all those countries, including Germany on Wednesday, that recognize Kosovo. Government leaders are also doing little to calm heated emotions among their populace and are refusing to sign agreements negotiated with the European Union. The country had a golden opportunity to jump on the EU-membership fast track, but it showed a willingness to let the chance slip away out of intransigence over the Kosovo issue.

Had Belgrade submitted a list of demands in exchange for flexibility over the Kosovo issue -- territorial compensation, financial aid or a timeline for accession -- it would have gotten the majority, if not all, of what it asked for.

But now, relations between Serbia and EU have hit rock bottom. It won't stay that way for long, though. The two sides need each other. Without Serbia on board, long-term stability in the Balkans is an impossibility. And without the EU, Serbia has no future.

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