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.