EU enlargement: Cooperation or competition in the Balkans?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The agreement over the Reform Treaty opens a new window on EU enlargement and raises the issue of whether the Balkan states should face the opportunity individually or collectively, writes Peter Sain ley Berry for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).

The 17 October paper states that with the institutional debate now settled (subject to ratification), attention can now be focused in other directions, notably towards the western Balkans, with Slovenia – which assumes the EU presidency in January 2008 – making progress on enlargement in the region a priority. 

The author claims that “a future for the whole western Balkans region within an expanded EU is now not in doubt”, and highlights establishing a date by which the process will be complete and the question of whether the countries concerned should enter separately or together as a bloc as the issues to be settled. 

Sain ley Berry states that it is “understood and accepted” that all western Balkan countries have work to do regarding the introduction of reforms and legislation that match EU standards. 

However, he believes that the EU itself will also have to adjust its institutional arrangements to accommodate the new members, and claims that it is not too early for the countries concerned to raise the issue of how an EU with 34 or more members will work, because such adjustments do not happen quickly and both sides will need time. 

Immediate concerns include the question of Kosovo’s status and Serbia’s cooperation with the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia. Kosovo is significant for the EU because a unilateral declaration of independence would cause a “deep rift” among its current members, he adds. 

The Kosovo question risks disturbing the favourable EU sentiment towards the region as a whole as well as damaging the reform process there, fears Sain ley Berry. 

Turning to enlargement, he ponders the tension between large and small EU member states, and asks whether this will increase in the new Union. He wonders whether the larger Europe will see regions such as western, central or Mediterranean Europe grouping together to defend their interests. 

He concludes that the prospect of EU accession will lead the Balkans to find that they share more interests than they realise, with the common battle for resources and influence compelling them to work as a bloc, setting aside issues of sovereignty and national pride. 

Moreover, demonstrating the ability to work together towards long-term regional objectives will accelerate their accession process, whereas countries working competitively and joining in ones and twos would be detrimental to the region as a whole, he adds. 

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