During the Slovenian EU Presidency we did some nice things on the Balkans – some credit goes to us (thanks Uroš) for the drafting of the final Declaration on the Western Balkans (PDF) that was part of the European Council conclusions in June 2008. Thanks to those poor guys negotiating our draft through then – many thanks to you as well, I know it was not easy:)
The Balkans are even more central to my current job. And today we organised an internal screening of the “Return to Europe” documentary on Albania, even the Commissioner Olli Rehn joined us. I’ve seen the documentary before and today met part of the team behind – from the ERSTE Stifting and the European Stability Initiative. The Albanian piece in particular is good and above all positive. As I spent some time there in summer 2007, I know how the place looks like. True, Albania has been remote from Europe for far too long, but it has been growing impressively. A country that was subject to a complete chaos in 1997 nowadays looks relatively modern and on the way up. Something to be proud of – many thanks also to people from MJAFT. I wonder if such a civic movement would work in some of the EU countries…Make sure you take your time to visit the website www.returntoeurope.org.
Anyway, moving on to what I actually wanted to say. After the screening I jumped to the presentation of the first Balkan Monitor – a public opinion survey of the Balkans. Put together by Gallup Europe and the European Fund for the Balkans, it gives statistical data for some proper analysis on the patterns & trends in the regions. Of course, one would need to dig a bit more into it to see the full value, something I don’t intend to just now. But the debate that followed offered some points to argue about. Goran Svilanovič‡, the former foreign minister of Serbia, floated the idea of “Copenhagen minus”. Those familiar with the EU Enlargement policy might get a bit nervous…While Copenhagen criteria are criteria on the basis of which the EU evaluated a potential member – and then gives or not candidate status – Svilanovič‡ argued that the EU should keep the regional governments busy with any kind of processes and contracts. “Just keep us busy!”
He was suggestion that the EU should open membership negotiations with all the countries from the Balkans and negotiate on everything, without the constraints of the formal procedures. But let me disagree here. 1) Such a procedure would first be messy to monitor, 2) Such a procedure would be difficult to compare accross the board, thus injecting feelings of unequal handling of individual countries, 3) Such a procedure would even further delegitimise the current EU Enlargement policy (=which is suffering a bit from lack of support recently), 4) It would also be without focus, thus bringing about many frustrations.
Of course, it might have short-term gains for some governments, but…as far as I’m concerned the EU Enlargement policy works OK. It’s meant to force countries to organise their administrative capacity better and to encourage political stability. The long negotiations are there for a reason – they offer clear benchmarks to the government, but not only. What better for any opposition and society, than having a rule book to which to hold accountable the politicians? Keep it as it is…just get rid of visa requirements as soon as possible, so people can start travelling and making business.