Wow, was I wrong

It’s just three weeks since I wrote this entry about the prospects for EU expansion in the Western Balkans. And in that short time, several of my predictions have been proven wrong.

— Croatia’s has been allowed to start negotiations for candidacy.

— Serbia has been allowed to start negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Pact.

— And, most unexpectedly of all, Bosnia has also been allowed to start SAA negotiations.

I titled that entry “Slowed or Stalled?” It turns out the answer was, “Neither! Damn the torpedoes, and full speed ahead!”

As to the individual countries… well, I have very mixed feelings here. Serbia probably deserves an SAA. Yes, they’re unstable, and yes, the Kostunica government is pokey and dopey and much afflicted by various sorts of nationalists. But they’ve made a lot of progress, too. They’ve transferred more than a dozen indictees to the Hague Tribunal — more than all the rest of the former Yugoslavia combined, in the last couple of years — and they’ve enacted so many reforms that the World Bank gave them the title of “Most Improved” in their recent survey of business environments around the world.

And the EU seems to have belatedly realized that, for the next few years at least, this is as good as it’s going to get in Serbia. Why? Well, mostly because the — hawk, spit — Serbian Radical Party is consistently polling at 35% or a bit more. The Radicals are your basic xenophobic populist nationalists, Balkan style. Their leader, Seselj, is currently before the Hague Tribunal for war crimes. The EU has made it pretty clear that a Radical-led government is unacceptable. But that means that a majority government in Serbia has to consist of, well, pretty much everyone else but the radicals. The current government is a minority government, sort of, and it’s still a rather fragile coalition.

(I blogged the results of Serbia’s most recent election. Short version: the only way to form a government was to cram some very unlikely bedfellows into a rather small and lumpy bed. Next time around, it’ll be just as bad, or worse.)

So, I’m mildly but pleasantly surprised by the decision WRT Serbia. Here’s hoping it will lead to continued reform and normalization there.

Croatia, now… oh, dear. I’m really quite disappointed by this one. Yes, Carla Del Ponte suddenly said that the Croats had been cooperating after all. And by the way, I have some beachfront land in Spitzbergen to sell you. No, this was a back-room deal, and a particularly muddy and ugly one. Good news for war criminals everywhere, mind.

Bosnia is the WTF here. Is there anyone who seriously thinks that Bosnia is ready to embark on the road to EU membership? Yes, an SAA agreement is just supposed to be the first stage. But Bosnia’s neighbor Croatia went from “negotiating SAA” to “SAA agreed” in less than two years; from there to “SAA in effect” in four more years; and then from there to “starting accession negotiations” in just eight months. Do you think Bosnia is six years away from being a ready-to-go EU candidate? Nope, me neither.

My best guess is that Serbia got its SAA negotations, at least in part, because Croatia got the green light for membership talks; and that then Bosnia got tossed in because, well, you can’t just leave a hole in the middle of the Balkans. If that sounds overly simplistic, well, better explanations are welcome.

The net outcome is a crashing triumph for EU expansionists, albeit one with some fairly stringy strings attached. The EU is going to include the Western Balkans. Forget about Turkey for a moment and contemplate that. We’re looking at an EU of more than 30 members by the middle of the next decade.

Anyway. Did I get anything right? Well, at least one of my predictions seems to have been correct. I’ve said many times that negative Croatian attitudes towards the EU — polls showing support for membership under 40%, with large minorities saying Croatia “did not need” the EU — were nothing but sour grapes.

And: the most recent poll in Croatia just showed a jump of 20 percentage points in support for EU membership. Suddenly, a clear majority of Croats do want to join the EU. They like us! They really like us!

But otherwise, I’ll take my crow medium well.

14 thoughts on “Wow, was I wrong

  1. No, this was a back-room deal, and a particularly muddy and ugly one. Good news for war criminals everywhere, mind.

    If they agreed to let Turkey in the EU, we were bound to have good news for war criminals everywhere on the EU’s southeastern periphery. Why should Turkish-speaking war criminals treated differently from their Croatian-speaking counterparts? Someone depopulated Kurdistan, after all.

  2. The French military committed war crimes in Algeria. Hell, Le Pen boasts of them.

    Romania’s political and business elites are topheavy with Ceausescu cronies and former Securitate. Most of the people who ordered the Timisoara and Brasov massacres are still walking around free.

    Former members of EOKA-B are still in politics in Cyprus.

    Etcetera, etcetera.

    Moral perfection is not possible. Pragmatic consistency, however, is.

    If there was ever some faint chance of seeing justice done for the victims in Kurdistan, it just disappeared. It probably /was/ a faint chance, but who knows… we may have 15 years of negotiations with Turkey ahead, and many things were possible. But that one, now, isn’t.

    And, you know, put Turkey aside for a moment. (I know it’s hard, but try.) On its own merits, this is just a bad idea. It’s telling all potential candidates that, if you can find a strong enough patron, or make yourself part of a package deal, all sins can potentially be forgiven, all crimes swept under the rug.

    And it’s an insult to Gotovina’s many victims, of course.

    Doug M.

  3. It’s just three weeks since I wrote this entry about the prospects for EU expansion in the Western Balkans. And in that short time, several of my predictions have been proven wrong.

    That’s what happens when you make predictions!

    Is there anyone who seriously thinks that Bosnia is ready to embark on the road to EU membership?

    Yes, me. They’re ready to start on the road, as are Turkey, Ukraine, Moldova, etc; that doesn’t mean they’re ready to reach the destination yet — they are all going to take years to get there.

    The net outcome is a crashing triumph for EU expansionists, albeit one with some fairly stringy strings attached. The EU is going to include the Western Balkans.

    I think that’s been apparent for some time — everyone knows what the destination is, the only questions are when are they going to get there and by what route?

    Forget about Turkey for a moment and contemplate that. We’re looking at an EU of more than 30 members by the middle of the next decade.

    Let’s see: Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia — by 2010 (28 members).

    Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, Turkey, Ukraine; and possibles Moldova, Cape Verde, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan — by 2020 (35 to 40 members).

    Congrats on the addition to your family, BTW.

  4. An significant secessionist movement is a big problem for any state, but I don’t see why it should necessarily be a deal-breaker for an SAA or accession talks. Indeed, the prospective of EU membership gives the secessionists an interesting dilemma: EU membership as part of the state they were trying to secede from, or a continued struggle in which success means sovreignty, but sovreignty outside the EU.

    In the particular case of Bosnia, Bosnia as it stands now is an absurd state, and while both BH and RS as sovereignties would be even more absurd, BH and RS as EU members are slightly less absurd. Most of the troubles associated with having a long, thin, landlocked sliver of a state would be mitigated by free trade and being part of Schengen, and while the Yugoslav wars of the early 1990s amply demonstrated the member nations’ ability to ignore misbehavior in their back yards, it might still be assumed that they would not be so slow in responding to misbehavior in their vestibules.

    And on that last point, while conventional wisdom has it that it is the “wider Europe” party that is driving rapid expansion, what would be a better precedent for establishing the “deeper Europe” than actual intervention against the sovereignty of a member state? and how better to generate the crisis that would lead to that precedent than the admission of states with troubled internal politics …

  5. The advantage of Bosnia in the EU is that it would cost the EU a lot less money than what the EU spends at the moment in Bosnia.

    Armenia and Azerbaijan will still be at war in 2020. Unlike Iraqi Kurdistan (undoubtable independend at that stage)

  6. “If they agreed to let Turkey in the EU, we were bound to have good news for war criminals everywhere on the EU’s southeastern periphery.”

    Just a pedantic point: nobody has agreed to let Turkey into the EU. They have agreed to negaotiate for a minimum of ten years about the possibility of Turkey joining, provided x, y, z.

    Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia etc are effectively in the same position: they haven’t been given a carte blanche on human rights, in fact they all have to make changes.

    All of this is carrot and stick stuff. The only debate here seems to be about how much carrot and how much stick.

    None of this is good news for the war criminals who would definitely prefer no EU and no negotiations: ask the Kurds.

    Methinks you are getting a little to cynical in your old age Randy.

    @ Doug

    “Is there anyone who seriously thinks that Bosnia is ready to embark on the road to EU membership?”

    I think the issue isn’t that all these (and Ukraine, and Moldavia) are good causes: they certainly are: the issue is the EU’s capacity to absorb, especially after the constitution defeat.

    I am sure all these states would benefit from having negotiations: it is a way to anchor them. But if we change perspective for a moment, and look at the EU itself, with difficulties about agreeing a budget, no consitution, and a Stability and Growth Pact 2.0 which may well not be working, we can see that decisions on accession is maybe the only important thing you can get everyone together on (and even then after you swap Croatia with Turkey to keep Austria on board). The UK needed something from its presidency to show that the EU wasn’t falling apart, and the only reasonable choice was accession. Now it won’t seem to matter so much if this month’s summit ends in stalemate.

    This isn’t a conspiracy theory, simply a look at institutional dynamics.

    The big issue was of course raised by Austria (in the context of Turkey, but it holds with all the others), namely the capacity of a divided EU to absorb (politically, not economically) all these new members. I think there is the serious danger of drifting into gridlock, and especially if more problems show up in the functioning of the euro.

    @ Robert

    “And on that last point, while conventional wisdom has it that it is the “wider Europe” party that is driving rapid expansion, what would be a better precedent for establishing the “deeper Europe” than actual intervention against the sovereignty of a member state?”

    I’m sure you’re right Robert. I think much of the widening/deepening debate is popycock. There is an inbuilt momentum to deepening, and most of the new members once they are in will probably favour this even more than some of the core countries.

  7. It is just not fair that Serbia has been allowed to start negotiations for Stabilization, and Bosnia hasn’t.
    Serbia is not in better position than Bosnia at all, economically, politically… And also, Bosnian destabilization is caused by Serbia again.
    How ironical…

  8. Moral perfection is not possible. Pragmatic consistency, however, is.

    If there was ever some faint chance of seeing justice done for the victims in Kurdistan, it just disappeared. It probably /was/ a faint chance, but who knows… we may have 15 years of negotiations with Turkey ahead, and many things were possible. But that one, now, isn’t.

    So, as long as we’re admitting one country with unpunished war criminals, why not admit another? Croatia’s at least more manageable in size.

    And, you know, put Turkey aside for a moment. (I know it’s hard, but try.) On its own merits, this is just a bad idea. It’s telling all potential candidates that, if you can find a strong enough patron, or make yourself part of a package deal, all sins can potentially be forgiven, all crimes swept under the rug.

    Yes, I agree. Isn’t that what Britain was doing with its unconditional support for the opening of negotiations with Turkey?

    We can’t have it both ways, Doug. We can’t admit Turkey despite its abundance of domestic war criminals thanks to foreign sponsorship and exclude Croatia for the same reasons. If we’re opting for the gamble that including these countries in the EU will apply significant pressure on them to make the necessary reforms, perhaps including the punishment of the worst figures in the ethnic wars of the 1990s, fine, that’s arguably defensible. We have to make that choice, though.

  9. In Spain war criminals have not been punished in as much I’m aware. The Spanish Civil War was later than the Ottoman genocides, and only a decade had past since the democratisation.

    DSW

  10. Just for your information.

    “Der Spiegel” today on Monday in its paper version (page 22) published its latest polls concerning EU membership for Turkey and Croatia.

    Turkey:–Yes—-No
    Feb. 200454%—37%
    Oct. 200452%—43%
    Apr. 200543%—54%
    Oct. 200550%—46%

    Croatia:-Yes—-No
    Oct. 200572%—21% (1000 people polled; TNS Infratest)

    (Remaining percentages undecided. No further details given.)

  11. You also have all the colonial wars the Europeans fought and the you have Blair and his Iraqi adventure. But atleast Blair will likely end up in a bad corner of history

  12. does anyone know what process is involved with a country leaving the EU.

    with the EU as 15, appart from the UK, there was never any serious threats of actually leaving the EU.

    however with the EU we have at the moment i can easily dream up situations where loads a countries might want to leave becuase the situation the find them selves in and the europe that they are surrounded by.

    point i am getting at is some of europe wants to deepen, at the expense of a broadening of europe. however as mentioned above broadening is where its at at the moment. at somepoint there has to be a clash between those two desires, and in a broad EU i dont see much scope for it.

    i dunno, but lately that has been playing on my mind, and i for one have no idea whats involved in actually leaving the EU.

  13. Actually it’s a bit counter intuitive, but BiH is not nearly as backward as all that, they have a better pension system than most Balkans nations, and their banking system is fairly modern. This wasn’t the case a couple years ago, but it’s the case now. People actually should stop assumeing BiH hasn’t got the ability to take part in the EU. Whether being in the EU is in BiH’s interests, now that is another story!

  14. Pingback: Halfway down the Danube

Comments are closed.