The Europeanization of Balkans

  • Abstract:

    Europeanization, the process of adopting EU rules, laws and regulations covering virtually all aspects of life in a member state of the EU, has exhibited a disparate record of success in the Balkans, causing endless debates on the unique character of this area contrasted to the rest of the EU. Even within the area itself, the pace of moving “Europeanization” forward has been uneven and a probe is needed to identify the reasons for this. Knowing where the Balkans are coming from, will assist us better understand where they are heading to as well in terms of their efforts to fall in line with required EU rules, laws, directives etc in the course of Europeanization. The specific task though is filled with immense differences with the rest of other successful EU candidate countries and finally, members. The Balkans to start with, dubed as the ‘tinderbox of Europe’ due to its heavily violent history, remains an area filled with a heavy history of conflicts, disagreements etc and its recent past after the break up of former Yugoslavia. Slovenia and Croatia, parts of that union entered the EU rather swiftly due to their strong backing by key members of the EU, i.e. Germany, France, Britain etc. Unfortunately, the other new state candidates of the area, Montenegro, Serbia, FYROM and Albania (Accession negotiations and chapters have been opened with Montenegro and Serbia)* are loaded with too many basic problems that need to be sorted out first, some of them being very obvious in the ‘Europeanization’ process and others remaining inexplicable and downright, political. A claim in the literature that political elites in the Western Balkans used institutions of post-conflict justice for local political purposes in the aftermath of the Yugoslav wars thus, hijacking a smooth process to Europeanization seems weak and beckons the greater issue of the absence of a much-needed benevolent paternalism of the EU itself. Further considerations on this that, ‘natural’ separate identity convergences from the European Idea (Eurpeanization being the process) in accession candidate states from the Balkans explain fully their sluggish and/or stalled Europeanization are also extremely tenuous and are unfortunately and peculiarly, racist and dangerous. For example, arguing that Catholic Croatia was more ‘European’ than Orthodox Serbia and this is why the former entered swiftly whereas the latter has not is, borderline, arbitrary. Oversimplifying the Europeanization process looking for culprits instead of being attentive to real issues on the ground, is a dead end road serving none, either Europe or the Balkans as a region. As the known dictum implies, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. (Saint Bernard of Clairvaux) None doubts that the Europeanization of the Balkans is, a coercive, demanding and externally-driven process thus, increasing pressures on heavily-burdened populations in the said countries of the area which have been, historically, through much more than many other current or future fellow state members of the Union. The EU’s recurrent foreign policy’ centrifugal tendencies fitting more certain member states’ own national interests rather than the publicly-declared EU’s foreign affairs’ agenda is a known fact and a source of unfortunate complications itself too large to ignore. The EU acting as above and at the same time, trumpetting the sought ‘Partnership between itself and the Balkans’ stands on rather thin ground. To date it has mainly shown signs of being rather, a one-way, reeling and patronizing process. The Balkan accession candidate countries are unfortunately, stuck in a complex and heavy Europeanization process and agenda with with two sign poles marking the course: blatant EU intervention and an absent political economy mechanism on the ground in the accession candidate countries that will allow local actors to ring about the needed reforms and drastic changes. Realities on the slippery ground of the Balkans and high value attached to bringing the Europeanization process to fruition for the EU ensure that the drawn out process of accession will continue but an intelligent alternative remains to be urgently invented for both partners reach their port of call soon. This will allow much better days to come for the people of the Balkans and Europe to put the perennial crises in the Balkans, its very backyard, to rest and enjoy the gratitude of the peoples who, ironically, need the Europena Union most!

    * Bosnia and Herzegovina has been recognised by the EU as a “potential candidate country” for accession since the decision of the European Council in Thessaloniki in 2003. Bosnia formally applied for EU membership in February 2016, and it remains a potential candidate country until it gets a response from the Council.