Where Do We Go From Here? Wrapping Up the Discussion.

David Stone and Despina Syrri (Editors) Integrating the Western Balkans into Europe. The aftermath of the Greek Presidency. p.125-132



A. Primatarova

Centre for Liberal Strategies

Sofia, Bulgaria


Abstract: With regard to the Balkan-European integration process both the Greek Presidency and the Italian Presidency and the presentations during the  ‘Where do we go from here?’  conference can be assessed on the basis of how they  relate to
-          the balance between vision and reality;
-          the balance between speed and quality of the integration process;
-          the balance between integration of the states and integration of the citizens.

Keywords: Western Balkan countries; Thessaloniki Summit; integration; enlargement; visa requirements. 

The balance between vision and reality

During the preparation of the EU-Western Balkan summit many voices from the region and in the region were advocating more vision on behalf of the EU whereas EU representatives and the Greek presidency were warning of unrealistic expectations.  Against this background the SEERC Conference confirmed the overall impression that the Thessaloniki agenda for the Western Balkan is rather well balanced between vision and reality (even if there are no commonly accepted benchmarks for the assessment of the results).
In terms of vision, Thessaloniki once again confirmed the vision that the Western Balkan countries will be an integral part of the EU.  For those who consider the results as not going far enough the importance of this vision is illustrated by Moldova’s strong aspirations to be included in the Stabilization and Association process (on the basis of its participation in the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe), i.e. to become part of this vision and not of the Wider Europe vision.
Yet how and how fast to materialize the vision of full membership can be considered an issue of vision as well. These two questions remain to a very big extent still open, even after the Thessaloniki summit, and the Italian Presidency will not be able to make an essential progress on them either.
The preparation of the fifth enlargement with the Central and East European countries provoked quite often, at least in the early stages, the question whether this enlargement should be regarded as different from previous enlargements. Finally it was treated as business as usual. The Thessaloniki agenda gives the impression that the enlargement with the Western Balkan countries will be treated as business as usual, too. However, several presentations during the present SEERC Conference can be considered as inviting for further reflection on the special needs of the countries in the region and a more tailor-cut approach to them. On the one hand, Bob Deacon expressed a concern that in the framework of the present enlargement process making policy choices came too short in the Central and East European countries, inviting thus the Western Balkan governments and citizens not to give up ownership on policy making because of rushing into meeting EU requirements.  On the other hand, Gerald Knaus presented case studies on economic and employment developments in Kossovo and in Bosnia that illustrated the necessity of designing enforced social and cohesion policies for the Western Balkan countries. The conference made thus clear that there is still scope for developing visions on the how and how fast aspects of the membership vision.
Even if falling short of expectations to provide more materialization to the membership vision in terms of how and how fast the Thessaloniki Summit and the programme of the Italian Presidency were considered to have provided good results by virtually all speakers. The lacking materialization seems to be perceived in terms of reality constraints rather than as a lack of vision.
Future developments will show whether Thessaloniki 2003 will develop into a real turning point for the Western Balkan countries in the same way as the Copenhagen 1993 European Council developed into a turning point for the preparation for accession of the Central and East European countries. A more detailed retrospective analysis shows that Copenhagen 1993 was only the start of the beginning. It was actually Agenda 2000 that provided for the end of the beginning. Released on July 16, 1997, together with opinions on the eleven applications for EU membership from Central and Eastern Europe and Cyprus, Agenda 2000 comprised the Commission's proposals for agricultural, structural and horizontal policies, a reinforced pre-accession strategy and the financial framework beyond 1999.  It became thus the materialization of the 1993 membership vision. Criticisms of the   Thessaloniki 2003 Summit obviously reflect a disappointment that Thessaloniki did not provide simultaneously what Copenhagen 1993 and Luxembourg 1997 (the adoption of Agenda 2000 by the European Council) provided for the countries from Central and Eastern Europe.  Positive assessments reflect on the contrary an awareness of the reality constraints. Under the circumstances of an outgoing budget and the still to be discussed 2007-2013 budgetary framework neither the Greek nor the Italian Presidency had a possibility to get more concrete commitments from the European Council. Furthermore, on the basis of Copenhagen 1993 CEECs submitted applications for membership in 1994 and 1995. The opinions on the respective applications were an integral part of Agenda 2000. Last but not least, the budget was adopted in 1999.
A comparison between developments from 1993 onwards and the possible follow up of Thessaloniki 2003 shows that the Western Balkan countries, regardless of their domestic level of development and the level of their contractual relationships with the EU, will have a much shorter time than the CEECs if they want their membership aspirations to be properly reflected in the 2007-2013 budget.  Croatia has already applied for EU membership. During the present conference there was once again confirmation of Macedonia’s determination to apply for membership as well. The other countries from the Western Balkans will have to assess their possibilities to advance on a fast track to EU membership in a realistic way and to take into account that if the goal is membership in the framework of the next budget (2007-2013) an application for membership should be launched well in advance of the negotiations on this budget.
Further support of Greece and Italy, the two EU Member States from the region, will be of major importance for achieving the best financial provisions for the Western Balkan countries in the framework of the 2007-2013 budget, both as regards provisions for the pre-accession instruments and provisions allowing for membership of the best prepared countries.
Compared to Copenhagen 1993 Thessaloniki 2003 provides much more than the start of the beginning.  Still, Thessaloniki 2003 could not make too big a leap and provide for the end of the beginning as well.  Greece and Italy will have to continue their support for the region beyond their successful presidencies in 2003.
For the time being, both the Greek and the Italian Presidencies succeeded in striking the right balance between vision and reality. Important is that this balance is preserved in the future as well. The best way to do it would be not to loose any time from now on and to prepare an as visionary as possible Agenda for the Western Balkan countries and to support its adoption in 2006 in close linkage to the new budget.     

The balance between speed and quality of the integration process

Commissioner Günter Verheugen has considered the balance between speed and quality of the integration process as of major importance for the enlargement with the Central and East European countries. He regarded enlargement as a window of opportunity that might be open just for a certain period and than be closed again. To be sure, these considerations were formulated at a stage after the real beginning of the enlargement process – the negotiations proper - but the same observation holds true for the Western Balkan countries at the present stage of their integration process as well.  A delay of their EU integration would mean a delay of their democratization and modernization. Nobody can afford such a delay  (neither the Western Balkan countries nor the present EU) without bringing overall European stability into danger. The EU integration process in the Central and East European countries has already proven that it is the best reform anchor, the best incentive for democratization and modernization. That is why the pace of EU integration of the Western Balkan countries should not be considered as an issue that lays in their own hands only.  The EU should care about the pace of the integration process as well. In this respect the Thessaloniki agenda does not provide for a real balance between speed and quality.  Speed seems to be considered at this stage as a non-issue for the EU. What matters is quality.
The tricky balance between vision and reality is a good explanation why Thessaloniki created the impression that speed is a non-issue for the EU.  The Western Balkan countries, their citizens would have loved to get a date for accession (the question of speed is easily translated into the date issue). But at the present stage the EU could not even make a commitment to the end of the beginning (an Agenda similar to the Agenda 2000), not to talk about a commitment to the end of the end. Yet a general recognition of the fact that speed matters would have been quite useful and reassuring at this early stage of the process. The opportunity for such a recognition has not been used, thus the impression that the speed-component in the enlargement equation has been neglected.

From Copenhagen 1993 until the already agreed enlargement on May 1 2004 more than 10 years will have passed (for Bulgaria and Romania with their target date 2007 the period will be even longer). The target dates of the countries from the Western Balkan that have announced such dates (be it officially or semiofficially) are all earlier than 2010. From their viewpoint accession in ten (and more) years time would be a big frustration. On the other hand, many EU Member States don’t give signs that they are seriously considering enlargement in the framework of the next budget (2007-2013) – except for Croatia.  So, the elaboration of the budget for the 2007-2013 period will be a serious test not only for preserving the right balance between vision and reality but for finding the right balance between speed and quality as well.   

The balance between integration of the states and integration of the citizens

One of the major elements in the Draft Constitutional Treaty elaborated by the Convention on  the Future of Europe is that the Union is a union of states and a union of citizens. The proposed integration model for the Western Balkan countries has to be assessed also on the basis of this distinction. In how far does this integration model provide for the integration of the citizens as well – or is it rather a model that until accession is considering the states only? A positive example of integrating citizens (scientists, researchers) was presented by George Bonas who did show that integration in the field of science and technology has been  functioning  well on the basis of an EU-Balkan plan for cooperation in science and technology.  The conference was however dominated by a negative example of neglecting the human dimension of the integration process, i.e. the still existing visa requirements for citizens from Western Balkan countries (except Croatia) and the way the visa requirements  are functioning in reality.  Talking about the integration of these countries whilst keeping their citizen out of the EU brings the whole EU integration process into discredit. Thessaloniki is a step in the right direction in so far as it has been recognized that the visa issue is a very important one for the countries and for the citizens. But a solution can hardly be expected during the Italian Presidency either. The Bulgarian and the Romanian experience can be very useful for the Western Balkan countries since these two countries were the only two CEECs that had visa requirements in place as late as 2001.
The balance between integration of the states and integration of the citizens will remain an important issue with regard to the Western Balkan countries, especially if due to the  differentiation principle countries are coming do join the EU at different points of time. At the present stage there seems to be a common understanding that Croatia will be the first Western Balkan country to join the EU.  With regard to the rest the expectations are that this time the ‘own merits’ principle will be applied and that there will be no group-enlargement. Provided this scenario becomes a reality the importance of the integration of citizens to go hand in hand with the integration of states will be enormous.  Creating new dividing lines between these rather small countries that have a lot of history and culture in common and many families with relatives in the neighboring countries could jeopardize the regional cooperation that is an essential part of the Stabilization and Association process and is already making good progress.