Slowed or stalled?

Taking a break from the German elections, I ran across this recent article over at Radio Free Europe. Short version: EU accession for the Western Balkans (Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia and Albania) is stalling.

All of these five states would like to be part of the EU, but — with the partial exception of Croatia — none of them are particularly welcome. The EU appears to be going through a period of “accession fatigue” in general. The “No” votes in France and the Netherlands, though not directed specifically at these countries, have definitely created an atmosphere of doubt and uncertainty.

Furthermore, many of the countries of the Western Balkans are — there’s no way to be polite about this — unpopular. A recent Eurobarometer poll shows that more people oppose membership for Bosnia (43%) than support it. Only 40% of Europeans support EU membership for Serbia, while 44% oppose it. And for Albania, those numbers are a depressing 36% for, 50% against.

Obviously this could change over time. Again with the exception of Croatia, all of these countries are at least a decade away from membership. So opinions might shift. Still, the poll numbers suggest that there’s not much popular support within the EU for even starting the process.

Looking at the potential members one by one, below the flip.

Croatia is by far the richest country in the Western Balkans. It’s also the most advanced along the road to EU accession. Croatia has a “Stabilization and Association Pact” with the EU, which means that it’s satisfied a long list of benchmarks and is ready to begin negotiations for full accession. Those negotiations were scheduled to begin in March of this year.

Unfortunately for Croatia, the EU Commission insisted that Croatia first turn over indicted war criminal Ante Gotovina to the Hague Tribunal. (Gotovina was a general in the Croatian army. He’s wanted for crimes against Croatia’s Serbian minority, including mass murder and ethnic cleansing.) The Croats have protested that they don’t know where Gotovina is. The EU Commission has refused to accept this. So accession talks have been delayed for over six months now.

If accession talks begin soon, Croatia could plausibly join around 2010 or 2011. The Croats claim that they can satisfy all the requirements (closing all 36 chapters of the acquis communautaire) within three years. This is unlikely. Economic and (especially) legal reforms in Croatia have stalled in the last few years, and the country would probably need at least 5 years to close the acquis.

It’s interesting to note that support for EU accession in Croatia itself has nosedived in the last year, falling from around 60% to about 35%. This seems to be a bad case of sour grapes. Croatian nationalists resent the Gotovina thing, while Croatians in general dislike being made to stand in line behind “primitive” countries like Bulgaria and Romania. It’s anyone’s guess what will happen once the negotiations begin. Nobody’s turned down EU membership yet, though, and I’d be very surprised if Croatia were the first.

Macedonia has an SAA pact since 2002. Despite a marked lack of enthusiasm on the part of the EU, Macedonia took the next logical step and applied for EU membership in 2004.

Now, nobody seriously thinks that small, poor, backwards Macedonia is anywhere near ready to begin accession talks. (It’s generally agreed that the SAA was a reward to the Macedonians for signing the Lake Ochrid Agreement.) But their application is on the table now, and must be acknowledged somehow. The EU Commission is supposed to “offer a recommendation” on the Macedonian candidacy in November 2005.

Serbia is expected to get its SAA pact sometime in 2006. The good news is that Serbia has unexpectedly emerged as the good student of the region. They’ve been handing over their war criminals, bit by bit, and the World Bank recently gave them a major stroke by designating them “most improved” in terms of business-friendly legal and regulatory reforms. (That’s in the world, not just in Europe.)

Unfortunately, Serbia is still much too poor, backwards, corrupt and politically retrograde to be an EU candidate any time soon. Worse yet, its future is confused by the fact that within a year or two, it may have split into three countries — Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro. The Kosovo issue in particular is likely to severely complicate Serbia’s near and medium-term future. And, of course, independent Montenegro and Kosovo would have to begin their own SAA negotiations and chart their own (long, tortuous) roads to accession.

Bosnia has no SAA, nor any prospects of getting one soon. They’re a long way away from candidacy and, at the moment, they’re not getting any closer. They haven’t even started their SAA talks. That means they’ll probably be the last country in the region to get an SAA pact, which in turn means they’re likely to fall behind in the eventual accession process.

Finally, Albania was supposed to get its SAA this year, but that’s now been put off until next year. Six months ago, Albanian newspapers were confidently predicting that the country would join in 2014. That now looks optimistic.

— It’s funny. Just two and a half years ago, at the Thessaloniki Summit in June ’03, the EU was all sunshine towards the Western Balkans. “Thessaloniki will send two important messages to the Western Balkans,” said Chris Patten. “The prospect of membership of the EU is real, and we will not regard the map of the Union as complete until you have joined us… How far you proceed along the road towards European Integration, and how fast, will be up to you.”

This no longer seems to be the case. The visible disillusionment with expansion, the failure of the Constitutional process, the EU’s faltering political will… these things are now too obvious to ignore.

And they’re having effects. As the RFE article notes, the leadership of the Serb statelet in Bosnia was emboldened to reject an EU-backed plan for police reform, in part because the EU offer of membership had lost credibility. “We’ll never get in the EU, why should we care?” — this is likely to be heard more and more around the region.

In a worst-case scenario, we could see a vicious circle developing: because the EU can’t plausibly offer membership, reform falters; because reform falters, the Western Balkans remain backwards, poor, and corrupt, making the EU ever less interested in bringing them in.

I should add that I think this is unlikely. This is one area where bureacratic momentum and the insulation of EU elites from popular opinion can be good things. The accession process has certainly been slowed, but it doesn’t seem to have been stalled… yet. Most of the region’s governments are eager to push forward, and the EU Commission is (so far) still willing to lead them on.

Key metrics to watch over the next few months:

— The Gotovina case. There’s a bloc within the EU — Germany, Austria, Hungary and a few others — that would like to start talks with Croatia even if they can’t produce Gotovina. This also has a lot of support, I’m sorry to say, in the European Parliament.

If accession talks start next year without Gotovina, then it’ll send a mixed but powerful signal across the region.

— The EU Commission’s response to the Macedonian application, due out in November.

— Whether the Romanian and Bulgarian accessions go off on time (January 1, 2007), or are delayed. The accession treaties for those countries have a clause that states their accession can be delayed by a year, if they aren’t living up to the promises they made when they closed the acquis. A strong signal on this should come next month, when both Romania and Bulgaria get their annual “report cards” on their accession efforts; an even more clear statement should come by next April, when the EU really must decide one way or the other.

Delay would arguably be a good thing, as it would show the EU to be serious about holding candidates to high standards. But in the short run, it would certainly be another blow to the hopes of those countries’ neighbors in the Western Balkans.

21 thoughts on “Slowed or stalled?

  1. Do you really think that Serbia and Montenegro can split up without taking Bosnia and Hercegovina with it? Or in other words, does it make any sense about talking of countries joining that will no longer exist when it is time for joining?

  2. Can S&M split into two (or three) states without the B&H entities separating?

    To be honest I’m not sure the separation of Serbia and Montenegro from each other would be likely to have much impact in BiH.

    True, dividing Kosovo from the rest of Serbia would certainly stoke nationalism further among the authorities and populace of Republika Srpska, which have repeatedly showed contempt for re-integration of BiH anyway.

    We also have to see how the change in the balance of powers in BiH post-Ashdown will work out – the intention is, at least, if I understand it correctly, for both the state (ie “all of BiH”) govt and the EU Rep (rather than the High Rep of the International Community – Ashdown has been combining both posts) to assume some powers which up to now have been in the hands of the entities, on one hand, and the OHR, on the other. Re-establishing a viable and serious central state authority, although difficult, has to one of the main ways (prior to the abolition of the entity system( of preventing the further disintegration of BiH.

    The other is greater integration into the EU. But that isn’t going to happen until the RS authorities (and, to some extent, the Croat authorities in some of the HErzegovinian cantons) cease being so recalcitrant.

    This really is one area in which the EU needs to be more engaged, as a matter of vital regional stability. And, as with Slovakia in the 90s (not that this is strictly comparable: however unpleasant and isolationism Meciar was, he wasn’t promoting or colluding with mass-murder) and Croatia in the early 2000s, the offer of viable and foreseeable EU membership for BiH is the most valuable tool.

  3. Whence comes the ideological foundation?
    How can you say that Kosovo can get independance but Republika Srpska cannot? And secondly, where exactly is the EU’s interest in keeping BiH together? Peace of course, but keeping troops abroad is very draining on resources. Are there alternatives?

  4. West Balkan seems again to be put aside, EU has too many problems to get involved, but we should not forget the player behind the scene, i.e. USA. Speaking about Bosnia, do not forget that Dayton is in USA, Richard Holbrook is American, ergo the way Bosnia is organized now we have to thank to Mr Holbrook (to simplify…) So, if nothing has been done to change something in Bosnia constitution during last ten years, it is logical to think, that “we” are waiting to see what happens with Kosovo, and then “we” will come back to Bosnia…
    EU was not in a hurry in 1992., or better to say there were too many different interests involved then, as there are now.

  5. The ideological foundation (if there is any) is that Kosovo´s borders (i) predate the breakup of Yugoslavia and (ii) are not the result of a war. Since WWII, no independent states have been created without pre-existing administrative borders so it would set a (dangerous?) precedent. Though things might look different in, say, 30 years´ time if Bosnia´s internal organization isn´t changed. Which is why people wanting to preserve Bosnia as a state are petty keen on dissolving RS before everyone gets used to its existence.

  6. @ Oliver

    A large part of the EU´s policy is probably realpolitik. Dividing Bosnia into three parts would leave a Muslim-majority state with a strong irredentist movement. Not really what the EU wants anywhere close to its borders.

  7. The motivating idea behind the doctrine of territorial integrity seems to be along the lines of, The creation of new soveriegnties is almost always a messy process. Therefore the international community has decided to discourage it by refusing to recognize de jure sovereignty, even when de facto sovereignty exists.

    The trouble with this is, that the situation that leads a group to demand self-determination is usually a matter of facts rather than of law, and so separatists will fight for de facto sovereignty even though the prospect of de jure sovereignty is slim. When these efforts are at least partially successful, as they have been in the west Balkans, or in the Caucasus, I fear that the policy of ignoring the resulting pileup of unrecognized, semi-sovereign areas is akin to forest management by fire suppression. Allowing the understory to become a confused mass of brambles eventually creates the fuel for an all-consuming conflagration.

  8. Do you really think that Serbia and Montenegro can split up without taking Bosnia and Hercegovina with it?

    Yes.

    How can you say that Kosovo can get independance but Republika Srpska cannot?

    Easily. Look, I’m saying it right now!

    More seriously: what’s your objection here? Moral equivalence? Or a pragmatic “this will encourage secessionists?”

    And secondly, where exactly is the EU’s interest in keeping BiH together? Peace of course,

    Peace period. The unpleasantness in the former Yugoslavia killed ~150,000 people, set back the region’s development by a decade or more, and afflicted Europe with an unstable region that exports crime and misery to the rest of the continent. Nobody wants more of that.

    but keeping troops abroad is very draining on resources.

    Oh, please.

    Quick — what percent of the EU’s budget is spent on peacekeepers in Bosnia?

    Doug M.

  9. Quick — what percent of the EU’s budget is spent on peacekeepers in Bosnia?

    Not in money. Troops. Soldiers you can send abroad are hard to get. Draftees abroad is very hard to sell to voters.

    Moral equivalence?

    Partially. Denying future members self determination might be trouble.

  10. but we should not forget the player behind the scene, i.e. USA. Speaking about Bosnia, do not forget that Dayton is in USA, Richard Holbrook is American, ergo the way Bosnia is organized now we have to thank to Mr Holbrook (to simplify…)

    Well, no. Holbrook was one of a bunch of diplomats. And the Bosnians had a thing or two to say about “the way Bosnia is organized now”.

    The US withdrew from Bosnia back in 2004, BTW. The peace is kept there by Europeans now, not Americans.

    So, if nothing has been done to change something in Bosnia constitution during last ten years, it is logical to think, that “we” are waiting to see what happens with Kosovo, and then “we” will come back to Bosnia…

    I’m sorry, but I can’t make sense of this. Who is “we”?

    — It’s wrong anyhow. Stuff has been happening in Bosnia without much regard for events in Kosovo, and vice versa.

    EU was not in a hurry in 1992.

    Nor in 1993, 1994, or 1995.

    The EU let 150,000 people die and more than a million become refugees during those years, largely because nobody could be bothered. It was definitely not Europe’s finest hour.

    @Christian

    Dividing Bosnia into three parts would leave a Muslim-majority state with a strong irredentist movement. Not really what the EU wants anywhere close to its borders.

    First, it would be two parts, not three. The Croat population of Bosnia was never that large, and it has been declining steadily since Dayton. Simply put, Croats see no reason to stay in poverty-stricken Bosnia when relatively wealthy Croatia is just an hour’s drive away. The latest estimate is that the proportion of Croats is down to less than 15%, and it’s continuing to fall.

    Second, it’s hard to see where the irredentism would come from. Most Muslims now live on the Muslim side of the border. There are only isolated pockets left in Republika Srpska. And partition would very probably involve flows of emigrants from both entities.

    (I hope that Bosnia stays together, and I think it’s a goal worth striving for. But if it ever is divided, then minorities on both sides would have to be offered the option of resettlement.)

    The issue is not revanchism. It’s that splitting Bosnia would result in two entities that aren’t in any way viable. The Serb piece could be grafted onto Serbia (though this would present problems of its own… many Serbs in Serbia are not in a hurry to take in their Bosnian cousins). But the Muslim piece would be a ridiculous, irregularly shaped sliver of territory… economically absurd, and completely indefensible.

    Oh, and it would also make the EU look really stupid for wasting a decade trying to keep Bosnia glued together. Don’t underestimate the importance of that fact.

    Doug M.

  11. Small typo: Serbia may split into three countries, but those would be Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro, not Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia.

  12. Doug M. Sorry, but I wish to make myself clear. (I am from Bosnia, was born there, spent the years 1992-1995 in Sarajevo, I am old enough, and have seen a lot… )
    So, do you really think Bosnians did have their say in Dayton? And who are those Bosnians? Muslim, Croat, and Serb politcians were there, that’s right, but the Croats living in Bosnia are not satisfied with Dayton, neither are Serbs, neither are Muslims (or Bosniaks as they are officially called).
    The big question of Serbia proper has to be solved if Europe wants to have peace in Southeast as they like to call this reagion now. But Serbia has (legaly even at this moment) two provinces: Vojvodina and Kosovo. Kosovo does not wish to stay in Serbia… and believe me, some people on both sides of broder (in Serbia and in Bosnia) think – if we (Serbs) have to give up Kosovo, you (world powers)will have to give us Republika Srpska.
    Of course, I do not think that should happen, and I do not know how could that happen, what would remain, small island with two million Moslems in between Catholic Croatia and Orthodox Serbia? Well maybe…
    As for Americans leaving… Yes, 22.000 American soldiers left, small number is still here, but let us not kid ourselves, do you really think America is no longer involved in Bosnia, or in Balkans? From what I see, here where I live, I could not say that…

  13. The unpleasantness in the former Yugoslavia [. . .] set back the region’s development by a decade or more.

    Only a decade? Before the civil war, the poorer republics seem to have been not far behind Poland. Now look at them.

  14. @Adrian — D’oh. Corrected, thank you.

    @Seesaw — My point is that Dayton was by no means an American _diktat_; and furthermore, than American interest and influence in Bosnia has been steadily declining for a while now. The US is still a player, but it’s not the most important player.

    The US continues to be very involved in the region — Camp Bondsteel, the new bases in Bulgaria, etc. But /Bosnia/ is not a very high priority.

    I know that many Serbs think Serbia “deserves” Republika Srpska “in return for” Kosovo. But this is unlikely to happen… possible, yes, but unlikely. It would require the EU to admit that it was wrong, that the Bosnia project was futile, and the last ten years were a complete waste of time and effort. This is unlikely.

    @Randy — Macedonia I’d say lost about a decade. Macedonia today looks a lot like Poland or Romania c. 1995, just without the industry. Bosnia and Serbia, closer to two decades; they’re still not back to their 1991 standard of living.

    @Luke — thanks.

    Doug M.

  15. I know that many Serbs think Serbia “deserves” Republika Srpska “in return for” Kosovo.

    Then we are in deep trouble. At least if this attitude lasts. Is there any hope it won’t? Ten years is a long time.

    The EU cannot have a member that would surpress a democratic independance movement. This is just impossible. A member state must essentially have free elections. Therefore time is on the separatists side. I don’t see how you would abolish the entities to the point they couldn’t hold elections and hold a referendum on independance.

    Neither is there any carrot to offer. 2020 is not a meaningfull thing to say. Cutting off aid is not very realistic either. The EU has an interest in these regions developing.

  16. “The EU cannot have a member that would surpress a democratic independance movement.”

    Be careful how you formulate this. The Basques will want a referendum on ‘self determination’ once Eta goes the way of the IRA. Given the opportunity they may well vote yes. The PP, if in government, would refuse point blank to let them leave, they would do everything in their power to prevent the vote even being held. And beyond that I have no idea.

    The point being that Spain is already a member.

    Another scenario altogether would be a Conservative government in the UK, where England wanted to leave the EU and Scotland voted to remain. But these issues wouldn’t be the one you mentioned, even if England tried to carry Scotland with it under duress.

  17. I would have to drop the pretense that all members are equal. The big four would get away with it. Spain would if it were done quickly and without bloodshed. Nobody else would.

  18. The Republika Srpska authorities and their associated political parties, security services, hiders of war criminals, illegal arms smugglers, mafiosi, are a “democratic independence movement” then????

    (Sure, the IRA, ETA and Corsican separatists all have dodgy elements too, to a lesser degree than the RS mob, but no way are any of them getting anything like a state to run anytime in the foreseeable future.)

    Please tell me it’s April 1st.

    When they hand over Karazdic and Mladic and start making greater efforts than they have done so far, start reconstructing the mosques they destroyed in (for starters) Banja Luka and Foca, and take substantive and symbolic measures to show that members of all communal and/or religious groups have equal status and rights in all areas of public life in the territories they control I’ll start to tolerate that sort of talk.

    But to call the RS authorities a “democratic independence movement”, if I understand you correctly, that is both historical revisionism and an apologia for the committers, proponents and apologists for, at the very least, mass killings.

  19. But to call the RS authorities a “democratic independence movement”, if I understand you correctly, that is both historical revisionism and an apologia for the committers, proponents and apologists for, at the very least, mass killings.

    They are crooks. Some of them with ties to genocidal people. But if there were a honest fully democratic referendum about a declaration of independance in Republika Srpska, which side would win?
    Furthermore, if the government of said entity decided to do this and would be determined to pull it off, how could you stop them?
    If no acceptable means to do so are at hand, how sure are you that they could be persuaded not to do so?
    If you could (big if here) form a honest government in that entity, would it be firmly set against independance?

    The EU has a set of rules, which for better or worse include popular rule in some form. In the present state of being ruled by an autocratic viceroy Bosnia (and Hercegovina – as I was informed asking why ice cream is paid for in kuna in Neum) is not fit to be let into the EU. Now either we need to abolish the very concept of entities, which is a part of the peace agreement, or we need to look at the governments that will arise in the entities if the goal of establishing truly democratic governments is achieved.

    I did not intend to hurt your feelings by implying that the current government is morally acceptable. Sorry. But at the same time all I can see is that a democratic independance movement will eventually arise.

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