The Brief – Could the EU follow the fate of Yugoslavia?

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

For all of us who lived through the collapse of Yugoslavia, it was a moment that stayed ingrained in our collective consciousness.

It was late January 1990, when Yugoslavia’s Communist Party called an emergency congress to deal with growing problems in the country unleashed by the onset of democracy. It was televised live – a rare occurrence in a country that didn’t really have free media before.

At one point, the delegation of Slovenia had had enough of Serbia throwing its increasingly nationalist weight around, so they stood up and left. Until then, it was unthinkable that anyone could dare to walk out on the Party.

Some of the Slovenians, including a lady named Sonja Lokar, cried as they were leaving. The first president of independent Slovenia, Milan Kučan, later described it as follows:

“To this day, Sonja is still reprimanded by people because she ‘cried for Yugoslavia’. But in a way, we all cried for Yugoslavia, there were a lot of good things in that country. Those who know Sonja, know that she cried over the fate that was soon to befall Yugoslavia”.

And we all know how Yugoslavia ended.

The emotional scenes witnessed in the European Parliament on Wednesday, as lawmakers bade farewell to their departing UK colleagues, brought back those memories.

Some MEPs stood there and cried as cheering Brexiteer-in-chief, Nigel Farage, swaggered towards the exit for one last time.

Now, no one is suggesting that the EU will go the way of Yugoslavia and collapse in bloodshed. It won’t. But others might have such expectations.

Because some of the things Farage said in his parting shot are frustratingly spot-on.

“I want Brexit to start a debate across the rest of Europe. What do we want from Europe? If we want trade, friendship, cooperation, reciprocity, we don’t need a European Commission, a European court, these institutions and all of this power,” Farage said.

“I am hoping this begins the end of this project, it’s a bad project. It is anti-democratic and it gives people power without accountability, people who cannot be held to account by the electorate and that is not an acceptable structure.”

It is tempting to think that it’s actually Farage who should be crying – after Brexit, he has lost his battle horse (and his job). But not necessarily. In the difficult negotiations on the future relationship, the objective of some Brexiteers is to weaken the Commission and the EU, by pulling all kinds of strings.

Others would argue the EU doesn’t need external enemies.

American geostrategic analyst George Friedman summed up the situation earlier this week in an analysis titled The Fragmentation of the European Union:

“The tensions in the EU represent questions over whether national interests and identities can be reconciled with poorly defined EU interests. EU is moving toward an existential crisis. It may survive, but only as a coalition of nations representing a fraction of Europe.”

The gloomy view may have been coloured by particular American interests, but warnings are also coming from the other side of the globe. Russian ambassador in Croatia, Anvar Azimov, published an open letter inviting Europe to restore ties with Moscow and leave behind its increasingly problematic ally in Washington.

So, will the EU muddle through, stumble or take bold steps towards a sustainable future?

Agreeing a strategic, all-encompassing long-term EU budget seems to be the only right answer to all the questions and doubts.

Which is why we’ll be watching very closely what happens when EU leaders come together for a special budget summit on 20 February, hoping to emerge from murky waters of particular national interests with a consensual financial framework.

That should also help us understand who is driving the EU bus and whether it is a truly level playing field or a union in which some are more equal than others.

The Roundup

Surplus wind power could soon light and heat Belgian homes thanks to a planned hydrogen plant on the North Sea coast, set to be the world’s first commercial-scale project of its type.

The German federal cabinet signed off on the country’s coal phase-out bill on Wednesday, giving its blessing to billions worth of taxpayer money to compensate for power companies’ lost revenues.

Regulation on the activities of online platforms is needed to foster a digital ecosystem that can “defend and promote democracy” the EU’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová said on Thursday.

There should be “clear criteria” in the future mass-scale rollout of Biometric Identification Systems in the EU, a recently leaked draft of the EU’s Artificial Intelligence strategy seen by EURACTIV reveals.

The new EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides wants more information about the controversial issue of gene editing and for now, she seems less enthusiastic than her predecessor Vytenis Andriukaitis.

The area of the European Union affected by the African swine fever (ASF) is “progressively expanding”, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said in its latest update on the disease, published on Thursday.

Each year, during the Lunar New Year celebrations, a small Arctic Chinatown takes shape near Norway’s border with Russia and Finland. It’s an indication of how China, though a non-Arctic state, is increasingly eyeing opportunities in the region.

The leader of Ireland’s Fianna Fáil party Micheál Martin has hit out at recent comments made by the EU Commissioner Phil Hogan, accusing him of making a ‘coded partisan intervention’ in Irish politics ahead of next week’s general election.

In Burgenland’s state elections, socialist Hans-Peter Doskozil (SPÖ) won the absolute majority, bringing a ray of hope to the Austrian socialist party after a series of defeats. But will the party learn from this?

Look out for…

United Kingdom leaves the EU at midnight on Friday. Von der Leyen, Sassolli, Michel deliver a joint statement earlier on Friday.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Ben Fox and Samuel Stolton]

 

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