Friday

19th Jan 2018

Opinion

Time to end EU vetoes on Balkan integration

  • Protesters in Macedonia - the country went from star pupil to riots. (Photo: Zlatevska DNEVNIK)

The key to unlocking EU integration in the Western Balkans lies in the EU treaty - abolition of the unanimity rule on enlargement.

Treaty change may sound like a bold idea at a time when the EU is preoccupied with other issues, such as Brexit and migration.

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  • Kosovo - its EU future is ring-fenced by at least five vetoes. (Photo: Aleksandra Eriksson)

But it is a test of whether member states really meant it when they said the future of the Balkans was in the EU.

In the current treaty, all major steps in the enlargement process are subject to 28 potential vetoes.

That means that none of the six Balkan EU hopefuls will become members on the visible horizon, not due to lack of reform, but due to political deadlocks.

It also means that old problems in the region will raise their heads as the EU hopes fade.

Macedonia deadlock

The Macedonia deadlock illustrates the problem.

The European Commission has deemed Macedonia eligible to start EU entry talks for the past nine years.

It has not started them because Greece has vetoed it for the best part of a decade on grounds that Macedonia's name clashed with a Greek region of the same name.

Macedonia has degenerated from being an EU star pupil to seeing riots in parliament in that period of limbo.

EU officials are now cheering on a new government in Skopje, but the same limbo awaits.

Serbia and Kosovo also illustrate the EU criteria problem.

Serbia is closing chapters in the EU negotiating book in the full knowledge that it cannot enter the European Union until it does what it can never do - recognise Kosovo.

Kosovo is taking steps on the EU path in the knowledge it cannot enter until Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain do what they show no signs of doing - recognise Kosovo.

Chapter 35 of the Serbia-EU talks, on Kosovo, cannot be closed until Belgrade and Pristina come to terms on their territorial dispute.

But if not recognition, then what kind of deal could that be? No one knows - not in Serbia, Kosovo, or the EU.

One option might be for Serbia to sign a paper saying it would waive its EU veto, after it got in, to block Kosovo's EU talks the same way that Greece has blocked Macedonia.

It would not be easy to find a formula that the EU and Kosovo could trust.

But if Serbia got in before Kosovo with no veto waiver, then Kosovo would face a sixth block on enlargement on top of the existing five EU non-recognisers.

In the current situation, the Western Balkans public is confused over what the EU wants and how it plans to achieve its goals.

Other actors

It is a propitious environment for Russia to offer countries such as Serbia an alternative way forward.

It is also an environment in which the veto problem threatens to multiply in the years to come.

Greece could well block Albania's EU path the same way it has done Macedonia due to a maritime territory dispute that dates back to 2009.

Croatia could use its veto to block Serbia in a dispute on the Danube River border. Croatia could also block Montenegro due to a row over the Prevlaka Peninsula.

The sooner the countries in the Western Balkans join the EU, and for that matter Nato, the better for the stability in the region and in wider Europe.

Ending the enlargement veto in the EU treaty is the right step to take for the benefit of all: the EU and the Western Balkans.

Edmund Ekrem Krasniqi is a Kosovar journalist and expert who founded the DTT-net.com news agency on Western Balkans affairs.

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