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EU Enlargement- Still hope for the Western Balkans?

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The European integration of the Western Balkans seems to be stuck between declarative political promises and reality on the ground. There is general consensus, both within and outside the region, that the only realistic project for achieving sustainable stability and prosperity in the Balkans is integration with the European Union (EU). Today, the completion of the “European project” for the region is threatened by serious challenges.

Europe is wrapped in its internal problems struggling to come to grip with the economic and political crises, and still shocked by Brexit, and coping with the migration crisis. Despite all of the current chaos, countries in the Western Balkans have not lost their interest in the EU, and are still queuing up to become members of this large family. On the other side, despite a recognized degree of “enlargement fatigue” by many member states, the EU is keeping the enlargement policy alive in its backyard. “Europeanizing” a region still dogged by mistrust, underdeveloped economies, weak rule of law and underrepresented civil society could be understood as a test of credibility and capacity for the EU, especially so, since winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.

Enlargement fatigue

Enlargement, a core priority of the EU since the 1990s, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, has widely been acknowledged to be the most powerful instrument of EU’s foreign policy . It has been the most effective conflict prevention mechanism in the Balkans. What began as a club of six countries is now home to a population of more than 500 million. Eight more countries are waiting to join the club, while one of the most important EU countries just decided to leave – the United Kingdom.

Despite all the criticism, the overall success of enlargement is undeniable for all countries. New and old member states have benefited economically from bigger markets, higher competitiveness, and access to people and knowledge. It also contributed to reducing the east-west gap in democratic developments. While, each of the seven rounds of enlargement had different motivations and consequences due to varying geographical, political and economic characteristics of the new members, the underlying motivation has not changed: securing Europe.

Twelve years after the “historical unification” of Europe in May 2004 with the “big bang enlargement” with ten new members, the entire discourse about enlargement seems to be rather different. Popular scepticism has grown, with 53 percent of EU citizens largely opposing further enlargement .

Many argue that the “enlargement fatigue” started in 2007 with the accession of Bulgaria and Romani, when the EU reached its “absorption capacity.” But, the debate about enlargement is much older than that. In fact, it started to fade out since 2003 with the failure of the EU Constitutional process, followed by the “NO” votes of the Dutch and French referendums. Then the 2004 and 2007 enlargements increased further the diversity of the EU. On top of all this came the economic crisis and its unprecedented threat to deal a blow not just to the single market but to the whole EU. Right in the middle of the Eurozone crisis, the EU found itself unprepared for the migration crisis- the biggest security threat for Europe, and the events in East. Finally, Brexit, the most unforeseeable challenge for the union which will change the balance of power in Europe and beyond.

The European dream on

The Western Balkan states (Albania, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo) queuing up for membership are themselves no picnic. Despite the progress made in the last 20 years, unfortunately, the region was unpleasantly eventful as the communist ideologies of the past were replaced by nationalist and ethnic divide. The quality of democracy, market economy, political management and rule of law remain concerning. Doubts are raised that democracy in the Western Balkans has turned more into power struggles, creating a gap between elites and citizens. The new institutions of market economy are undermined by the informal economy and the widening economic and social disparities. Organized crime and corruption remain serious challenges. Although the incomes per capita almost doubled in the last two decades, the Western Balkans economies lag behind the rest of Europe, with average regional levels of income as low as 36 percent of the EU countries. Integration with the EU is seen as a tool to catch up with the other advanced European countries.

However, signs of the “enlargement fatigue” are partly unsatisfactory reforms and structural difficulties in the current candidates that make it more challenging to meet the criteria for accession.

Unintended consequences

Statements of no feasible EU enlargement for the Western Balkans in the short term are not uncommon. However, overall support for the region has not been fizzling out at all. Under the initiative of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the “European Perspective” for the region was renewed in 2014, aiming to strengthen partnership and speed reforms. Success or failure will be determined by the real commitment of leaders in the region. They should miss the train this time. Friends and supporter for the region in the EU are diminishing, with the United Kingdom being a good example.

However, sending de-stimulating messages to the region for further enlargement would create the unintended consequence of “reforms fatigue.” This could foster political back-sliding and instability for the region and the EU itself.

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Baerbock has publicly declared ‘a war against Russia’

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image source: Wikimedia Commons

On January 25 Germany and the United States decided to provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 and Abrams tanks totaling 45 (respectively: 14 + 31). Some European countries also intend to join these supplies that could reach around 300 main battle and light tanks during this year. The Pentagon official confirmed that collected ‘the armor basket’ could include 300 tanks and ACV/APC during 2023. It will be 28th ‘basket’ of lethal military supplies of the transatlantic alliance to Ukraine that started on a massive scale in 2022.

– Unlike fascist Germany, current Germany openly declared a war against Russia on January 25. Arguing in favor of sending NATO tanks and ACV/APC to Ukraine, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said EU countries were fighting a war against Russia. US and EU officials have previously gone out of their way to claim ‘they were not a party to the conflict in Ukraine’.

This is a quotation from what Baerbock has stated at PACE. “And therefore, I’ve said already in the last days – yes, we have to do more to defend Ukraine. Yes, we have to do more also on tanks,” Baerbock said during a debate at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on January 25. “But the most important and the crucial part is that we do it together and that we do not do the blame game in Europe, because

so far from the German Government, it means that her statement is fully shared by the FRG Government we are fighting a war against Russia and not against each other.”

If she has not been sacked and the Parliament.

It also means that the FRG has radically changed its foreign policy and once again is unleashing the next World War – the Third one.

It means that German tanks again will appear in Ukraine and Russia like in 1941-1945.

It also means that pro-Nazi coalition supports ultra-nationalist regime in Kiev that began its own and unprovoked aggression – initially against Donbass in April 2014, and later against Russia in October 2022.

It means that since January 25, 2023 current joint Ukrainian-NATO actions in Ukraine can be politically and juridically labelled as “a declared direct combined Ukrainian-NATO aggression against the Russian Federation”.

Russia angrily reacted to such abnormal statement. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that tank supplies to Ukraine by Western countries testify their direct and growing involvement in their armed conflict. He added that the flow of western weapons to Ukraine does not help potential negotiations between Moscow and Kiev.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that any shipments containing weapons for Ukraine would become a lawful target for Russian forces,

The Russian Embassy in Germany for its part warned that “this extremely dangerous decision [by Berlin] shifts the Ukrainian conflict to a new level of standoff.”

All five parliamentary political parties at the Russian State Duma are demanding from the highest military and political structures in the country to destroy all Ukrainian-NATO heavy weapons – not only at the front lines, but additionally and primarily near Ukrainian-NATO border as soon as such weapons cross it on land, in the air and at sea.

Such destruction will save a lot of innocent lives amongst civilians and military men.

– Moscow has also cautioned NATO and non-NATO members against supplying Ukraine with depleted uranium munitions (DUM) and with long-range weaponry capable of striking at cities deep within Russian territory.

Supplying Ukraine with DUM for western military hardware would be regarded by Moscow as the use of “dirty bombs,” said Konstantin Gavrilov, head of the Russian delegation to the Vienna Negotiations on Military Security and Arms Control. Speaking at a plenary meeting of the OSCE Forum for Security Cooperation in the capital of Austria Vienna, Gavrilov cautioned “western sponsors of Kiev’s war machine” against encouraging “nuclear provocations and blackmail.”

“We know that Leopard 2 tanks, as well as Bradley and Marder armored fighting vehicles, can use depleted uranium shells, which can contaminate terrain, just like it happened in Yugoslavia and Iraq,” he said. “If Kiev were to be supplied with such munitions for the use in western heavy military hardware, we would regard it as the use of ‘dirty nuclear bombs’ against Russia, with all the consequences that entails.”

Gavrilov also warned that Moscow will retaliate if the West were to supply Kiev with long-range weaponry to carry out strikes against Russian cities. “If Washington and NATO countries provide Kiev with weapons for striking against the cities deep inside the Russian territory and for attempting to seize our constitutionally affirmed territories, it would force Moscow to undertake harsh retaliatory actions. Do not say that we did not warn you,” he remarked.

– Ex-President Donald Trump called on Joseph Biden to end ‘crazy’ Ukraine conflict before it leads to the use of nuclear weapons.

“First come the tanks, then come the nukes. Get this crazy war ended, now. So easy to do,” Trump outlined.

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Davos more of a show, no longer so important

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“Davos has become more of a show, it’s no longer so important”, concluded Liviu Muresan from Eurodefense Romania at the end of the webinar recently jointly organized by Eurodefense Romania and the Bucharest-based MEPEI think-tank. In the aftermath of the Davos World Economic Forum, 20 key-note speakers invited to examine this year’s edition did not hesitate to cast a critical eye upon the outcome and some of them were very straightforward in assessing this year’s  WEF.

Adrian Severin, former Romanian minister of foreign affairs, gave a remarkable definition to the Davos WEF:  “something between mythology and reality because politicians come to Davos to look for intellectual validation and economic support, corporatists come to look for intellectual respectability and political assets, civil activists seek kinship with the political power and financial sponsorship. They make a network of self-legitimized supra-national power that combines the characteristics of occult interest groups, influence groups that associate oligarchic cynicism with democratic hypocrisy. A group of self- proclaimed prophets, self-confirming their prophecies.”

Experienced in foreign policy, Severin could identify new approaches during the Forum, so he portrayed in detail “the Davos WEF that turned from an incubator of ideas into a platform for launching messages and trial balloons, from a doctrinal workshop into a ballroom…from a political designer into a moral whistle-blower ….from a producer of doctrines into a producer of dogmas…from the champion of missionary realism into athlete of utopias ….from a platform of dialogue into a platform of war propaganda…from a believer in globalization into a promoter of globalism…from a follower of inclusion into a promoter of exclusion….Davos is at risk of losing popularity and political failure, it no longer solves problems, it either deepens the existing crisis or generates new crises .”

Severin argued that “this year’s edition was significant through the absences rather than through the presences because only Olaf Scholtz was present this year out of the G7 leaders….Russia and China were absent….The president of the European Commission has become a US ventriloquist , no longer representative of the European Union that is neither  Union, and no longer European…The main representatives of the US were absent. Those present discussed everything but the risk of having the world fractured into two blocks with incompatible cultural identities, with the Euro-Atlantic block increasingly weaker than the Indo-Pacific block and the Euro-African-South-American block…the discussion about green energy and other similar topics  is nonsense as long as solutions are not presented.”

Severin believes that the main concern should be “to stop the war in Ukraine and to normalize the dialogue between the Euro-Atlantic and the Euro-Asian blocks”, especially because this year’s theme was “Cooperation in a fragmented world”.

The most inspirational speech was given by Antonio Gutierez, the head of United Nations Organization, who referred indeed to the fragmented world, but Severin pointed to the fact that Antonio Gutierez gave such a speech in Davos and not in the UN in New York or Geneva, a sign of the failure of the UN, which means that the UN and the OSCE must be revived.

General Corneliu Pivariu, former head of the Romanian Military Intelligence, stressed that the Davos meeting actually does not solve any problem of the world. It speaks every year about economic inequalities without solving that, doing every year nothing else than acknowledging the deepening of inequalities. For instance, according to Credit Suisse, between December 2019  and December 2021, the global wealth increased with 42 trillion USD but 26 trillion USD belonged to the 1% richest population, and 16% to the rest of 99% of the world’s population. Another topic is global warming, which is also never curbed, and an Oxfam report released in November 2022 revealed that a billionaire’s annual emissions of CO2 are one million times higher than a person in the 90% of the world’s population.

Carlos Branco, senior analyst with the National Defense Institute in Portugal, confirmed that Davos meeting did not find solutions to the world’s problems. He reminded that, in Davos, Ursula Von Der Leyen, Olaf Scholtz and other leaders spoke of the need to make Europe independent in terms of energy but they did not explain how exactly Europe will manage to provide itself commodities and raw materials, since Europe currently has 37 strategic dependencies out of which 2% from China and 3% from Russia, while the new technologies will still make Europe dependent on Asia. “The future of Europe will depend on how it will position itself in relation to the advanced technologies, Artificial Intelligence,  a.s.o., but for the moment, Europe is trapped.”

As an outstanding expert on Asia, Viorel Isticioaia Budura, former Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific at the European External Action Service and former Romanian ambassador in China and Japan, pointed to the absence of many G7 leaders in Davos as well as of Asian leaders, among which China, which is “the beauty and Miss Universe of the world’s interdependency”, and mentioned the presence of many Asian business people in Davos this year, while reminding of the importance of Asian countries and of the three high-level summits organized in Asia last year, G20, APEC and ASEAN, and of what Anthony Blinken, the US secretary of state, called “the rest of the world”, namely, Asian countries that do not follow the Euro-Atlantic order but have become a significant part of the global economy. Isticioaia Budura wondered if the “re-globalization of the supply chains would be possible” and declared China “the champion and the promoter of globalization.”

Michael Zinkanell director of the Austrian Institute for European and Security, Vienna, expressed his opinion that “we a living in a bipolar world dominated by the US and China while Russia has no ability to project global power, and some clear conclusions after the Davos meeting are that instability is increasing in the world, the world is becoming more and more interconnected and energy independence and decarbonisation are very important for the future”.  Zinkanell sees natural disasters and socio-economic risks as the main concerns for the future, but also the interactions with some authoritarian countries that are trying to lead in this new multipolar world that will allow multilateralism.

Germano Dottori, editor of the Italian Geopolitical magazine, also agreed that Davos meeting became too politicized and not too useful but he sees the prospects for the future of the world “not so bleak like a few months ago.”

Flavius Caba Maria, president of MEPEI, the Bucharest-based think-tank that co-organized the webinar, expert on the MENA region, mentioned a few aspects among which that fact that the representatives of oil and gas companies were welcomed at Davos, unlike Glasgow, which is a sign that renewables cannot entirely meet the energy needs of humanity.

On the other hand, Caba Maria pointed to the BRICS countries and his remarks could be seen as complementary to the idea mentioned by several speakers that the Western institutions seem to have lost their ability to solve the global problems and to ensure economic equality.

Caba Maria emphasized that “the global South is establishing its own system of alliances, turning them into a source to transform global economy, thus creating a development alternative trend, different from the one promoted by the West, with three regional alliances looming: the African Union, the Community of Latin American States and Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Eurasia. Among all these countries, China stands out and everything that’s going on in China is of utmost interest for the other countries, because it has become the world’s largest economy.”

Facts to keep in mind for the organizers of next Davos meetings.

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Serbia must reject the ultimatum regarding Kosovo

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Photo: Presidency of Serbia / Dimitrije Goll

The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic on January 20th  had a meeting with the Western negotiating team about the solution for Kosovo. European mediator Miroslav Lajcak, American envoy Gabriel Escobar, German and French special advisers Jens Ploetner and Emmanuel Bonne as well as Italian prime minister’s adviser Mario Talo once again discussed with the leaders of Serbia (and Kosovo) the plan(ultimatum) that should regulate relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Officially, the plan for a peaceful solution has not been presented to the public. However, Serbian media published the text of the plan and they clearly emphasize that it is an ultimatum from Quinta.  And what is even more important, no one from the Government of Serbia denied it.

Which clearly tells us that the Government of Serbia is releasing the plan(ultimatum) as a trial balloon. However, that decision turned out to be wise, because the reactions of the citizens of Serbia to the plan were more than clear on the point of view that the plan was unacceptable. Because that agreement, among other things, requires that Serbia in practice (de facto) recognize the violent secession of its own Province that is, allow Kosovo to join the United Nations.

The plan compiled by the advisers of the leaders of the two largest democracies in Europe – French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz – represents a gross violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244, the basic principles of democratic international relations, the UN Charter, and the OSCE Final Document.

The plan(ultimatum) for Kosovo, humiliates Serbia and the Serbian people by ordering that Serbia respect equality, sovereignty, territorial integrity and the so-called state symbols of Kosovo and all other countries, except it`s own sovereignty, territorial integrity and it`s internationally recognized borders confirmed by the UN, OSCE and other international organizations. Serbia is expected to cooperate in dismantling its own integrity, its own constitutional order and international reputation, so that no one could use the “Kosovo case” as a precedent for unilateral secessions, which primarily refers to Ukraine.

The fact that currently five members of the European Union (Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Cyprus) and four members of NATO do not recognize the independence of Kosovo shows how bad the acceptance of the plan would be for Serbia. The goal is also to place all responsibility for the victims and destruction on Serbia, as a victim of the NATO aggression in 1999, and to use this act to justify the aggression against Serbia, which was carried out against the international law.

Kosovo is not a frozen conflict, as claimed in the West and repeated by official Belgrade, nor it can be resolved by an ultimatum to Serbia. The best example of this is Cyprus, which was invaded by Turkey in 1974, and despite this, neither Turkey nor Cyprus (or Greece) agree to any ultimatums, nor does anyone give them. The question must be asked here, how is it possible for Quinta to issue an ultimatum to Serbia and why are the Serbian Government and the President of Serbia allowing it?!

The Serbian Government must apply new tactics

Negotiations on Kosovo with Quinta must first be conducted on essential matters. And that means, above all, the protection of the current Serbian population in Kosovo and the return of the 250,000 expelled Serbs. Regulating the status of Serbian state property in Kosovo, which was seized by the separatist government in the province. Plus, the return of stolen property to the Serbs, who were forcibly expelled from the province.

Also, bearing in mind the aggressive policy of the Kosovo separatists, who, contrary to the agreement with NATO, are sending special units to the north of the province, while perpetrating violence against the Serbs, a new strategy is needed. And this is primarily reflected in the fact that the Government of Serbia must help establish the Republika Srpska in the north of Kosovo. This means that the local Serbs would have their own police(including a special police unit), judiciary, prosecutor’s office, education, health care and control over border crossings. In other words, parity would be established in the armed forces, bearing in mind that it is not realistic to expect that Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic will ever approve the sending of the Serbian Army to Kosovo. In this way, Serbia would strategically strengthen its positions and would wait for a change on the geopolitical scene of the world, until favorable conditions are created for the full return of the southern Serbian province of Kosovo to Serbia.

Otherwise, if Serbian Government agree to Kosovo’s entry into the United Nations, it would mean that Kosovo could unite with Albania, about which Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti also publicly spoke about. This would than open the issue of secession from Serbia of the Presevo Valley and the geographical region of Sandzak. And what is even more important, an incredibly strong pressure to abolish Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina would begin. All of the above would have catastrophic consequences for the country of Serbia, but also for the entire Balkans.

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