Saturday

21st Oct 2017

Opinion

The Western Balkans in the EU: To be or not to be?

The Western Balkans (WB) is relatively small but a complex region with wide cultural and religious diversity. The last two decades showed that such an environment might be easily misused by politicians with nationalist agendas that ultimately lead to severe conflicts and wars. This had direct negative impact on economic growth and living standard of the people in the region.

In addition, the actual challenges in the region, such as the complex governance system in Bosnia and Herzegovina, sensitive relations between Kosovo and Serbia, as well as the name issue of Macedonia, heat up the debate between the eurosceptics and euro-optimists about EU integration of the WB.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  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.

  • Macedonian and EU flags (Photo: Boris Grdanoski)

EU integration continues to be the main slogan of almost all party leaders and prime ministers in the WB. This has proved to be a politically attractive position, since it matches with the optimistic expectation of the people for better future.

The expected benefits from joining the EU will be an increase in trade and investments. This will create new jobs and improve living standards. These positive effects will be enhanced by integration in a wider market such as the EU. Most policymakers support the idea - that the orientation of the WB countries towards the EU is the right way to go and is a sustainable option for these countries.

This is the main and sole convergence point within and among countries of the WB. The progress of WB countries recognized by EU through granting status of candidate, visa liberalisation and the opening of negotiations for membership generate stability and further optimism in the region.

However, EU integration is a long and complex process dealing with convergence and catching-up with the existing economic performance of EU countries.

If we compare the standard of living among EU members and WB countries we will see huge differences. In 2008, GDP per capita for countries in the euro area was around €30,000, while the average GDP per capita for the WB countries for the same year was around €5,000.

There are significant differences also in the rate of unemployment. The average rate of unemployment in the euro area is 8-9 percent while the average rate for the WB countries exceeds 21 percent. These figures expose wide differences in the standard of living between WB countries and the EU.

In order to catch-up with EU economies, WB countries need to grow faster and to become more competitive. The experience of this decade shows that the average rate of economic growth of the EU, until the beginning of the world economic crisis was around 2.5 percent, while economic growth of WB countries was around 5 percent. A simple arithmetic exercise shows that with this ratio, it will take 75 years for WB countries to reach the living standard (measured as GDP per capita) of the EU countries. This is a long and complex process with certain socio-economical costs.

Any further prolongation of this process and the delay of benefits compared to the costs increases the arguments of the sceptics versus the optimists for the European future of the WB. On top of this, prolongation encourages nationalist policy options in the WB which could lead the region to isolation, instability and economic decline. It is clear hat integration of the WB in the EU is essential for stability and peace in the EU itself.

WB countries today are closer than ever to EU integration. However, meeting the criteria for integration still remains a great challenge for these countries. Perhaps it is time that EU countries should look to increasing the scope and intensity of support for the WB. This is not economically a big burden for the EU, with a market of around 500 million inhabitants, while the WB countries count a population of just 23 million. Since the cost of non-integration of these countries in the EU can be greater than the cost of integration itself, EU support is both economically and politically correct. This will increase the capacities of the WB countries to mobilise their own growth resources and encourage euro-optimists in the region.

Addressing the main question - "WB into the EU: to be or not to be, when and how?" – we may say: Yes to the integration of the WB into EU and the sooner the better. But it requires more intensive support and involvement from the EU both in political and economic terms to help the WB generate their own capacities of growth. This is a win-win game both for the EU and WB to ensure peace, stability and growth.

Dr Fatmir Besimi is the Minister of Economy in the Republic of Macedonia

Ukraine language law does not harm minorities

Some European politicians keep spreading fictitious arguments on Ukraine's language law as being an impediment to minority rights, Ukraine's education minister says.

News in Brief

  1. Rajoy to trigger Article 155 on Saturday in Catalan crisis
  2. EU conducts unannounced inspection of German car firm
  3. Lithuania calls for new EU energy laws
  4. EU leaders aim for December for defence cooperation
  5. Juncker says hands tied on Russia pipeline
  6. Czechs set to elect billionaire Andrej Babis
  7. Italian regions hold referendums on more autonomy
  8. EU leaders refuse to mediate Catalonia conflict

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Jinping Proposes Stronger Global Security Governance at Interpol Assembly
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaEU Engagement Could Contribute to Lasting Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
  3. UNICEFViolence in Myanmar Driving 12,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Into Bangladesh Every Week
  4. European Jewish CongressBulgaria Applauded for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  5. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  6. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  9. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  10. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  11. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  12. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!

Latest News

  1. The mysterious German behind Orban's Russian deals
  2. Mogherini urged to do more on Russian propaganda
  3. Turkey funding cuts signal EU mood shift
  4. Posted workers top EU agenda This Week
  5. Leaders lobby to host EU agencies at summit's margins
  6. Legal tweak could extend EU control on Russia pipeline
  7. Ukraine language law does not harm minorities
  8. EU begins preparations for Brexit trade talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  2. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  4. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  5. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  6. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  7. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  8. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  12. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement