Russia is the undisputed master of engineering ‘frozen conflicts’ that prevent countries in its neighbourhood from building closer EU relations. Transnistria in Moldova, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia are typical cases of frozen conflicts and Eastern Ukraine, if pacified, will probably be another one.
Russia was not responsible for the independence of Kosovo. On the contrary, it was the USA. But in many ways Kosovo looks like a frozen conflict, because it prevents both the former Serbian province and Serbia itself from moving toward a closer EU integration.
Changing borders in the Balkans is a dangerous game. Encouraged by the US, Kosovo declared independence in February 2008. The new state was not recognised by five EU members – Spain, Romania, Greece, Cyprus and Slovakia – who still fear that the precedent of changing borders could encourage their own separatists.
The Bulgarian Presidency took the initiative of inviting the remaining 27 EU members and the six Western Balkans hopefuls, including Kosovo, for a Sofia summit on 17 May, aimed at keeping alive the process of EU enlargement. Juncker threw his weight behind this plan. Bulgaria fears that there is a risk for the Western Balkans “to look elsewhere” if the EU remains only a distant hope.
The upcoming summit in Sofia may not achieve any ambitious goals. But without a credible EU accession perspective, the Western Balkans could return to the 1990s. That was a period of major humiliation for the EU, which had to take a backseat and rely on the US to extinguish the fires of ethnic conflicts on European territory.
Moreover, if the EU disengages from the Western Balkans, Russia, Turkey, China, Saudi Arabia would be quick to fill the gap. They have already carved some space, in different ways: China with economic projects, Turkey by resuscitating the “spiritual borders” of the Ottoman empire, Russia by pulling the strings of friendly politicians, like Macedonia’s President Ivanov. In Bosnia, Wahhabism is becoming a threat not only for its fragile statehood, but for the entire EU.
However, EU countries are again getting cold feet about enlargement and the entire Western Balkans summit is at risk because Spain doesn’t want to sit at the same table with the leader of Kosovo. Bad examples are always contagious, and other countries may do the same.
When Russia annexed Crimea, those who supported this move said Kosovo had already set a precedent. The comparison is not a valid one, but the EU has to ask itself what message it is sending to the world, and to the Balkans, by allowing this disunity to continue unchallenged.
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The Inside Track
Black Friday. Poland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws, and the government plans to tighten it further. EURACTIV’s Karolina Zbytniewska spoke to Polish activist Marta Lempart on women’s rights in the country.
New beginnings. Belgium has decided to shut all of its seven nuclear reactors by 2025. But, according to some, this could weaken the country’s geopolitical standing.
A costly blunder. The UK is making a major mistake by leaving the EU and the customs union and has yet to appreciate the challenges it will face in the future, former Irish Europe minister Dara Murphy tells EURACTIV.cz.
Balkan friends and foes. Serbia may be moving closer to solving its relations with Kosovo, a key obstacle on its EU membership road, and President Aleksandar Vucic expects ‘tough talks’ ahead.
Clean and green. Portugal met and even topped all of its energy needs with clean energy sources which raise questions on whether the EU’s renewable energy target for 2030 should be raised.
La French Touch. According to a survey, Paris is now the most popular destination for post-Brexit relocations of financial institutions in the UK, EURACTIV’s partner La Tribune reports.