Closing the door to Serbia is a danger for Europe

Closing the door to Serbia is a danger for Europe

The foreign ministers of the Eu displayed quite some optimism on Monday, when they encouraged the countries that aspire to join the Eu to accelerate structural reforms and fiscal consolidation, to stimulate growth and «prepare for the new surveillance procedures in the Economic and monetary union»: will there be a euro, by the time those countries enter the Eu? What sort of union will they join? And will it be open to them?

Tomorrow the European Council will discuss the franco-german proposal for more credible fiscal rules and tighter surveillance of national budgets, and the enlargement policy of the Eu. The former is not only a more urgent and important matter than the latter, but is also its logical antecedent.
Aside from the austerity package recently adopted by the Italian government, it is well known that solving the current crisis requires both a new architecture for the euro zone and urgent intervention by the Bce in the sovereign debt markets. To act with the necessary incisiveness, however, the Bce needs clarity on the future «fiscal compact», as its president rather explicitly said last Friday. Speed is of the essence, therefore, also in agreeing such new architecture, which clashes with the need of finding a consensus among twenty-seven governments: indeed, Britain already threatened its veto if the interests of the City of London will not be safeguarded. It is for this reason that France and Germany warned that if consensus will not be reached, the new treaty will be signed by the seventeen member of the euro zone alone: removing the veto of the other members of the Eu was necessary because, in a matter of weeks if not days, the markets and the Ecb need not only a good plan but also the confidence that it will be implemented in full.This sudden leap towards a fiscal union, probably under a treaty limited to the euro zone, reopens the question of a two-tier or variable-geometry Europe.

This question – and the debate as to whether the Eu should progress by deepening its political and economic integration or by broadening its geographical reach, two alternatives which were seen as incompatible especially by the supporters of the first one – had been settled by the two waves of enlargement of the last decade, which took place under treaties (Nice and Amsterdam) that ushered twelve new members into a more integrated but still essentially one-tier Eu. In these conditions, enlargement brought obvious political and economic benefits – for instance, trade between the original fifteen members and the twelve new ones grew almost six-fold since the accession process begun, in 2005 – but led to a rather unwieldy decision-making process, which made it more difficult to both handle policy differences and agree the necessary governance reforms.
It was in these conditions – only marginally improved in 2007 by the Lisbon treaty – that in June 2003 the EU, on the verge of accepting its twelve new members, promised a “European perspective” also to the states of the Balkans, which were about to become an enclave locked between the Adriatic and the borders of the EU and in the previous decade had produced four wars and almost one million refugees.

Since then only Croatia has made itself fit for membership, and will sign its accession treaty on 9 December, in the margins of the European Council. The other states are still at least five if not ten years away from membership. This should not be surprising, because in Europe the élites and popular opinion grew gradually more skeptical towards enlargement, especially after the economic crisis, thus weakening both the credibility of the promise made in 2003 to the Balkan countries and the willingness of their governments to undertake the deep and often painful structural reforms that Eu accession requires. Croatia moved better and faster because its economy was stronger, but probably also because its population – like Slovenia’s and unlike the rest of the Balkans – is catholic and ethnically homogenous.

So, the Balkans remain an unstable region, increasingly exposed to the influence of other powers: Turkey, whose neo-ottoman foreign policy is visible also beyond the countries that have Muslim majorities; Russia, which focuses its attention on Serbia, where the South Stream pipeline will run; and the Usa, which had used the crises of the Balkans also to assert its power over Europe and now has in Albania and especially in Kosovo two very loyal friends. Allowing the Balkans to drift away from Europe would be a serious mistake. The wars of the nineties have proven how dangerous it is to allow instability to prevail in that region, without which the unification of the European space will remain incomplete and the role of the Eu in world politics will continue to suffer from the vulnerability of its south-eastern flank.

Yet, even if the Balkan countries were to satisfy all conditions for membership, their accession remains unlikely precisely because the current governance system could easily grind to a halt in a union composed of thirty-four members; thirty-five, if also Iceland will join, as it seems likely. The crisis of the euro zone, therefore, offers an opportunity: if its new architecture will result in a union composed of a quasi-federal core – built around the «pilier économique solide» which the franco-german letter unveiled yesterday evening views as indispensible to the single currency – and a looser outer circle, joined together by the single market and common institutions, then both the governance rules and the depth of integration of the two circles could be adapted so as to allow the Eu to absorb the Balkans and, conceivably, also Turkey. In this scenario, while the Eu focuses on trying to stem this crisis and saving itself, it is now sufficient not to shatter the confidence of the Balkans in their “European perspective” and further bind them to the Eu through economic integration.

Tomorrow the European Council will discuss the proposals formulated by the European Commission on three Balkan countries, based on its assessment of the progress achieved by each of them: starting accession negotiations with Montenegro, which are likely to last at least five years; accepting Serbia as a candidate for membership, without however setting a date to start accession negotiations; and blessing the idea of a trade agreement with Kosovo. Accepting these proposals would encourage important reforms in these three countries, strengthen the stability of the Balkans and increase the influence which the Eu exercises over it. Rejecting them would do the opposite, and would lead the whole region to question the Eu’s political willingness to open itself to the rest of Europe.
Regrettably, disagreements among the twenty-seven member states may lead to the rejection of these proposals, and in particular of the most important one, on Serbia, due to differences about Kosovo and a small contested territory lying between it and Serbia.

By virtue of its size, position and pouvoir de nuisance, the stability of the Balkans must rest on Serbia. But Russian influence there is growing, and the populist and nationalist oppositions gather strength ahead of elections next spring: a negative decision risks leading Serbia to turn towards an alliance with Russia, which could destabilise Bosnia and shake the whole region: many analysts believe that a break-up of Bosnia would lead to large-scale violence. These are not risks that should be run for the sake of abiding by an Usa-inspired policy concerning Kosovo (which I find mistaken and contrary to the long-term interests of this country).

I would rather hope that the twenty-seven will set aside its disagreements on the details of Balkan policy, approve these three proposals and reaffirm their commitment to eventually absorbing this region. Then, once the Eu will have saved itself, work will start on the institutional arrangements that will make it possible to complete the unification of Europe.

*Andrea Capussela was the head of the economics unit of the International
Civilian Office, the mission which supervises and advises the authorities of
Kosovo.

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