To prevent infighting between neighbours, the Western Balkan countries could join the EU more easily as a bloc, Erhard Busek, special enlargement advisor to the Czech EU Presidency, told EURACTIV in an interview.
Erhard Busek is an Austrian politician and is currently serving as special advisor on enlargement to the Czech EU Presidency. Until recently, he was special coordinator of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe.
In your capacity as special enlargement advisor to the Czech EU Presidency, you may face various difficult situations. Albania recently indicated that it will officially apply for EU membership, despite warnings from Brussels that now is not the right time. In the final weeks of the French EU Presidency, Montenegro applied to join the EU. Serbia might be tempted to do the same, despite the fact that its Stabilisation and Association Agreement has not yet been enforced.
Have you discussed this with the high representatives of these countries?
I think it is necessary to discuss this with the member states of the European Union. Some of them are indicating that this is not the right moment to proceed with enlargement commitments. This is linked to the fact that the Lisbon Treaty has not yet been enforced, and also the mindset for future enlargement in some member countries is not yet quite clear.
So for the EU countries that are reluctant, before they can solve their internal problems, they are telling the countries you mentioned: please, don't do it now! But I'm happy that these countries are pushing for their accession, because it's creating a healthy pressure. These countries are in the courtyard of the EU anyway and their weight is not so big – it is half of Poland by population. But what is shocking is that the number of states is increasing. It is now difficult with 27 members to come to decisions: with 32 or more it will be even more difficult. For this reason, their accession is not yet really discussed.
You compared these countries to Poland by their population, but in terms of the number of votes in the Council or the number of MEPs, their weight will be much greater.
Exactly. That's in reality the problem. But in this way, pressure is created for changing the systems in the European Union. Personally I'm convinced that the current voting weight repartition, as well as the lack of qualified majority vote in most of the situations, is the real background of these hesitations. It has nothing to do with region, because it's completely clear for all member states that all the Western Balkan countries should become members of the EU.
Have you been in touch recently with Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, and what does he say?
I think he is looking for the rest of his mandate and his main concern, as I talked to him during the Gymnich meeting in the Czech Republic [on 28 March], is that he is trying to handle two problems. One is Slovenia-Croatia [border dispute], and the other is what to do with the Montenegrin application. On the second point, the formal procedure is open. There is no decision yet, but it's moving in the right direction.
You mentioned changing the rules in the Council. Even if the Lisbon Treaty enters into force, there will be no major changes compared to now. What do you have in mind?
That's a mistake [of the Lisbon Treaty]. The crucial question is: is Europe able to act as Europe? Or are we still to be divided, with Great Britain aligning with the United States, with a German-French coalition and so on? Here, you can see, we have a huge problem.
You have been in politics a long time. Has decision-making in the EU become more difficult since Europe has reunited?
That's right; it makes a difference if you are 12 or 27 or more in a room. But I think it's even more complicated, because Europe has not defined its role now that it has reunited. It was easier before, when we had the East-West division. Now we have to redefine our role, and it very much depends on ourselves. We need to define our relations with the United States, with Russia, in a greater context with China, and so on.
On enlargement, you are probably in tune with the Czech EU Presidency, which is pushing for further EU enlargement. But you are probably less in tune with Germany, France or your own country, Austria?
The real problem for Austria is Turkey, without any doubt. There is a majority against, and this has to be said quite clearly. But here Austria is not alone. When I am listening to Germany, I think it's going in the same direction. For the rest of the [applicant] countries, I think Austria is in favour of enlargement with the Western Balkans.
Do you expect a better climate for EU enlargement following the national elections in Germany later this year?
For the moment it's difficult to make predictions, but it's totally right [to say] that the election campaign is blocking everything and the Germans are reluctant to discuss the issue. Populists are campaigning out of enlargement, but the real background is not the enlargement, it is problems stemming from illegal migration, the financial crisis and so on.
You have good personal contacts with the prime minister of Albania, of the foreign minister. Tell us the secret: are they going to apply for EU membership in the following days?
They are discussing it. It's also connected with their own political affairs, because it might be an asset for the incoming [parliamentary] elections [in Albania] to move in this direction. My personal opinion is that besides Croatia, there could be a bloc of entering countries. Because the real danger – and we have to learn from the experience of Slovenia and Croatia – is that one country blocks the neighbouring country because of bilateral problems. It's a real nonsense, and I think it's better to do it all together.
Does the deteriorating political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina worry you?
Yes. And I hope that the new [UN] high representative [to Bosnia and Herzegovina], Ambassador Valentin Inzko [of Austria], who is a very gifted person, will be able to make things change into a better direction.
Do you have a message for the authorities of this country?
I think they shall try to improve their situation and follow the rules of the European Union. Accepting and applying the Copenhagen criteria is an important step towards membership in the EU.
And for the Slovenia-Croatia conflict? Should the parts rely on mediation, or international courts?
It's quite clear that it's a political problem, and political problems are always solved by negotiations.