Sunday

23rd Jul 2017

Opinion

The euro crisis should not stop enlargement

  • European foreign policy effectively started in the Balkans, it would be a shame if it ended there too. (Photo: Ayuto)

Wrecked by the euro crisis and a loss of the confidence that helped it expand to the current 27 members, the European Union might be expected to shrink rather than grow in the coming few years.

Without an effective solution to the euro crisis, the odds are that states might exit the common currency, if not the EU as a whole, and further expansion seems a long way down the list of priorities.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

However enlargement is far from over, with Croatia due to join next year and other countries in the Western Balkans still working towards accession. And although the challenges are considerable, further expansion is not just in these countries’ interests but in the interests of the EU itself.

Although Croatia is far ahead of its neighbours in the accession queue, they are not doing too badly themselves. Montenegro embarked on membership talks back in June, while Serbia was pronounced a candidate in March. Even the laggards are moving forwards. Bosnia and Herzegovina might apply for membership by the end of this year if it implements landmark constitutional reforms.

The European Commission has started work on a feasibility study which, over time, might lead to an association agreement with Kosovo (still not recognised by five of the EU’s members). Stealthily, enlargement has even recovered some of its lost lustre in the case of Turkey too. Ankara and Brussels initiated a readmission agreement which is a first step towards lifting the visa regime, the cause of a long-standing grudge in Turkey. Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle has inaugurated a “positive agenda” to resuscitate stalled accession talks.

The trouble is that these institutional realities, encouraging though they may be, are at odds with day-to-day politics. The Western Balkans are suffering from an economic crisis that has only been exacerbated by the cold winds blowing from the EU, the region’s principle trading and investment partner.

The regional star performer, Croatia, is in recession, while most others’ growth rates are anaemic. As Italian, Austrian, Greek and Slovene banks struggle to weather the financial storm sweeping across the continent , the Balkans are living through a credit crunch.

Neither migrant remittances nor foreign direct investments have recovered from the slump that began back in 2008-9, and unemployment is on the rise. Integration into the EU was supposed to push up living standards and open new opportunities. In reality, exposure to Europe’s malaise, in combination with delayed reforms at home, are deepening stagnation. In politics, populists have been reaping the benefits by harnessing social discontent, as seen recently in Serbia.

Such challenges should not dampen EU resolve. Understandably the woes of the Western Balkan are far from the most pressing matter, with the future of the euro hanging in the balance and Syria in flames. But neglecting the region would be dangerous, and would effectively write off the notable gains made since the dark days of the 1990s. European foreign policy effectively started in the Balkans, and it would be a shame if it ended there too.

The main risk is through slow erosion, rather than a swift and decisive death. Officials and pundits alike tend to see the Western Balkans as the Union’s backyard, surrounded by EU territory, and economically and politically dependent on Brussels. Interdependence, however, is not destiny.

There is a widening gulf between the pro-EU rhetoric of the elites in power and the familiar routine of patronage, corruption and rent-seeking that shapes the politics of the region. A lack of pressure from Brussels only sends encouraging signals to those who have grown used to talking the European talk, but rarely walking the walk.

Such politicians also know that allies and business partners can be found beyond the EU. Tomislav Nikolic, Serbia’s newly elected president, chose Moscow rather than Brussels as the destination of his first trip abroad. Turkey’s recent economic progress underlines that EU membership is now not the only choice available.

To play a more effective role in the region the EU has to first change its narrative about the Western Balkans. Once it was all about security and conflict management; today, by contrast, the region’s problems mirror those of Europe as a whole.

The key to success is therefore to reclaim the role of the engine for growth and development, although of course much depends on whether and how the EU manages to deal with its own internal mess. Other things matter too, as the current economic crisis is potentially changing the shape of integration, with the Western Balkans risking being consigned to an outer circle in a future multi-layered Europe.

Some might see such an outcome as a blessing that lowers the costs of accession, but it could also be a curse: peripheral attachment to the EU could equally mean lack of meaningful political, economic and institutional modernisation in these countries. Enlargement has to continue being a process of gradual inclusion based on convergence criteria.

Lastly, the EU has to deploy more efficiently its scarcer resources in the next budgetary period and bolster growth in the Western Balkans through helping build export capacity, drawing in FDI and strengthening regional cooperation. Only then will the EU demonstrate in this vital region that Europeanisation remains the best bet for the future, for the region and for the EU itself.

The writer is an analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive

Candidates from all political families should be presenting their vision on where the Union should be headed. European socialists want to keep the Spitzenkandidat procedure for future elections.

Greece needs a new plan

Two years into its third bailout, Greece needs to combine the necessary fiscal targets with a new vision. This can be done in the context of the ongoing industrial revolution.

Ceta and pesticides: A citizens' rights issue

The trade agreement with Canada will begin to apply on 21 September. But there is still a potential conflict on the right to data protection vs. the right to access information.

Greece needs a new plan

Two years into its third bailout, Greece needs to combine the necessary fiscal targets with a new vision. This can be done in the context of the ongoing industrial revolution.

News in Brief

  1. Polish parliament adopts controversial justice reform
  2. GMO opt-out plan unlikely to go anywhere in 2017
  3. Slovak PM threatens to boycott inferior food
  4. France takes Google's 'right to be forgotten' to EU court
  5. Turkey accuses German companies of supporting terror
  6. Israel's Netanyahu caught calling EU 'crazy'
  7. UK does not collect enough data to expel EU nationals
  8. Polish president threatens to veto justice reform

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  2. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  3. ECPAFood waste in the field can double without crop protection. #WithOrWithout #pesticides
  4. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  5. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  6. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Episode 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  9. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  10. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  12. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School

Latest News

  1. Dutch coalition talks lengthiest in 40 years
  2. Polish parliament steps up showdown with EU
  3. EU urges UK to clarify its Brexit positions
  4. Law expert: direct EU powers have become too complicated
  5. Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive
  6. Mafia money pollutes the EU economy
  7. Central Europe should be wary of Brexit stopping
  8. Poland's 'July coup' and what it means for the judiciary

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  2. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  3. EU2017EEPM Ratas: EU Is Not Only an Idea for the 500mn People in the Bloc, It Is Their Daily Reality
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy
  5. ILGA-EuropeGermany Finally Says Ja - Bundestag Votes for Marriage Equality!
  6. EPSUJapanese and European Public Sector Unions Slam JEFTA
  7. World VisionEU, Young Leaders and Civil Society Join Forces to End Violence Against Girls
  8. UNICEFNarrowing the Gaps: The Power of Investing in the Health of the Poorest Children
  9. EU2017EEEstonia to Surprise Europe With Unique Cultural Programme
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Talks Should Insist on Ending Reprisals Vs. Critical Voices
  11. European Free AllianceEFA Is Looking for a New Intern
  12. Malta EU 2017Conservation of Atlantic Tunas: International Measures Become EU Law