Montenegro initialed a Stabilization and Association Pact with the EU on March 15. That’s a step on the road to EU candidacy.
Nobody outside the Balkans noticed. Even inside the Balkans, nobody got too excited. Montenegro is a small and rather poor country, and EU membership is still years away. Hell, all they did was “initial” the S&A pact. They won’t actually sign it until (1) Montenegro adopts a new, EU-appropriate Constitution, and (2) all the current 27 members approve.
Still, it’s no small achievement. It shows that the Montenegrins, like the Croats, may be able to launder their recent history. Montenegro isn’t being held up for not cooperating with the Hague Tribunal, nor is their enthusiastic participation in the breakup of Yugoslavia being held against them. They are now formally, officially on the road to EU membership.
This is as good an occasion as any to review the league table in the Western Balkans.
There are six countries in the Western Balkans. All want to join the EU. They break down neatly into three groups: two countries that are full candidates for membership, two that have Stability and Association pacts, and two that don’t even have that.
1) Croatia. Croatia is a full-fledged EU candidate, with membership expected in 2010 or 2011.
If it were up to me, I’d keep them hanging another year or two. Croatia is still a very troubled country. The fact that it’s relatively wealthy obscures some serious problems: deep social divisions, a thoroughly corrupt judiciary, security services that are still a state within the state. And there’s a lot of nastiness from the 1990s that has been swept under the rug.
But it’s not up to me, and it’s going to be very hard to keep Croatia out. They’ve already started negotiating their chapters. They have a per capita income higher than several current members, they’ve fulfilled their obligations to the Hague court (in the letter, if not in spirit) and they have strong support from several current members including Italy, Austria, Poland and Germany.
The Croats say they’ll be in by 2009. This won’t happen, but 2010 is plausible and by 2012 they should be in barring catastrophe. There are a few things that could derail their membership — the outstanding border dispute with Slovenia, for instance, or the continued inability of Croatian courts to deal with war criminals — but these are long shots.
One slight complication: the current set of EU treaties only allows 27 members. But this can be solved by an amendment, which can be ratified at the same time that everyone is ratifying Croatian membership.
2) Macedonia. Macedonia is an EU candidate, but it’s several steps behind Croatia. Membership is not likely before 2012 at the earliest.
Macedonia some problems. Here’s the dumbest one. A couple of years ago, France adopted an asinine constitutional amendment requiring a referendum on all new EU members. This was, of course, aimed at the Turks. (I know, I know… a thinly disguised appeal to xenophobia dressed up as a piece of populism. In the reign of Jacques Chirac! Who would have thought it?) But the Macedonians will probably be the first to be affected by it. Yah, that’s right — unless France amends its constitution back, France (population ~60 million) will have to hold a referendum on admitting Macedonia (population ~2.5 million). And then additional referendums for Albania, Montenegro, and every other country on this list.
Another problem: both the Greeks and the Bulgarians have muttered under their breath about blocking Macedonia’s membership. In the case of Bulgaria, this is probably just posturing. In the case of Greece, it’s hard to be sure — the Greeks have shown an impressive capacity for stupid behavior where Macedonia is concerned.
3) Albania. Albania is not a candidate, but does have a Stabilization and Association agreement.
Albania’s not close enough to membership to even think about a date. “Not before 2012” is as close as I’ll venture. It’s still a poor and corrupt country with all the usual post-Communist problems plus some unique local ones as well. That said, Albania has seen several years of strong economic growth, and their last election was reasonably clean and not too violent. (It also marked the first peaceful transfer of democratic power in the country’s history.) PM Sali Berisha, while still an arrogant, pigheaded SOB with dismayingly authoritarian instincts, has been much less of a disaster than we all feared a couple of years ago. So, cautious optimism for Albania’s economic and political development.
One complicating factor for Albania: poll after poll shows that Albanian membership is not very popular with most EU members. This is partly the religion thing — Albania is a majority Muslim country — and partly because Albania has a very bad reputation; insofar as EU citizens are aware of Albania, they tend to associate it with crime and violence. That’s not entirely fair, but there it is.
4) Montenegro. They’re #4 right now, with the ink barely dry on their S&A, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them zip past Albania within a year or two. They’re surfing a wave of good publicity from last year’s peaceful secession from Serbia. Djukanovic is a none-too-democratic Big Man, but he’s a smart Big Man, and the country’s small size means that some reforms will be easier to implement. If Djukanovic decides to pocket his gains and allow real no-kidding democracy, Montenegro’s prospects aren’t bad.
Then there are the two slow students.
5) Bosnia. Bosnia still has a chance to get an S&A pact by the end of this year, but it’s probably not the way to bet. The EU has made it clear that it wants to see progress in everything from constitutional amendments to police reform, and no progress has been forthcoming. Basically, Bosnia’s various nationalists are holding its progress hostage.
6) Serbia. Well, what is there to say. Serbia’s EU aspirations have been frozen for a year now, as the Kostunica government has not been cooperating with the Hague Tribunal. Note that this lack of cooperation goes beyond not finding Karadzic and Mladic — Belgrade hasn’t even been making the required progress reports. I’m no fan of Carla del Ponte, but she’s right to be pissed here.
Kosovo complicates the picture considerably. It’s possible that the EU might award Serbia an S&A pact in return for accepting the cession of Kosovo. On the other hand, it’s hard to see any plausible Serbian government agreeing to such a deal. And even if they get a Stability and Association agreement — and improved cooperation with the Hague, too — there are internal dynamics that will make it quite hard for Serbia to work effectively towards candidate status.
I don’t want to be too pessimistic here. It’s possible that the Serbs might still pull it together and get candidate status by the end of the decade. But the sad fact is, at the moment they’re the very last in line.