Comment: Brave New Europe? – Exit
For a long time there has been a dichotomy between the methodology and the political aspects of European integration, which is now being tested with calls for accelerated accession from Ukraine and the torturous pace of accession from the Western Balkans .
The invasion of Ukraine was a wake-up call, especially for Ukrainian citizens, but also sent a wave of shock and horror across Europe. The majority of Europeans, for decades now, have understood peace, in the words of Yuval Harari, not as the absence of war but as its implausibility. I say majority because we in the Western Balkans know the monstrously bitter taste that even 30 years of time lag could not erase.
We live in the midst of a major shift in the geopolitical architecture. The overwhelming and united response to the invasion, for the first time in a long time, reaffirmed that the EU indeed has not only a capability, but also a profound need to do so.
This moment is also the center of gravity for the future of the Western Balkans, showing that the Western Balkans can contribute to solutions to key transnational issues by lending its weight to global multilateral efforts.
However, the Western Balkans are in a long queue for EU membership. While the EU accession process has turned into a roller coaster, the present times remind us that the European perspective is not only a question of socio-economic progress and prosperity, but also of security and stability.
In light of the Russian invasion, Ukraine submitted a formal application for “immediate” EU membership under a special fast-track procedure, quickly followed by formal applications from Georgia and Moldova .
The geopolitical context glaringly reminds us that EU membership is not just a methodological process of legislative approximation but a political action. And political action does not take a lifetime to materialize.
Being European is a state of mind, it is adherence to values and a vision.
I do not want to minimize a long process of alignment with the EU. But for a long time there has been a dichotomy between the methodology and the political aspects of European integration.
Compliance with technical requirements did not grant visa liberalization to Kosovo, nor the start of negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. The lack of consensus within the EU on these issues, and the ensuing tortuous pace of accession, have created the impression that the Western Balkans are a pendulum that can still be swung by those who dare to give it a shot.
Fewer and fewer citizens each year, 24%, believe that the integration of their respective economies into the EU will take place anytime soon. Given recent events, no one can claim that this does not concern the future and security of the EU.
In addition to the already threatened environment of peace and security in Europe, existing poverty and income inequalities would be deepened in the Western Balkans with the inflation of food and energy prices.
Furthermore, inflation in the Eurozone will also be transferred to the Western Balkans due to the current monetary regimes. The overall impact the war will have on Western Balkan economies is not yet certain, and whether it will turn into stagflation.
Take the bad with the good – we keep repeating ourselves. But bad times have a greater impact. How to accentuate the positive is the problem. Fomenting fears will not help anyone, while the obvious crisis we are living calls for sober reflection on the challenges, vulnerabilities and the prospect of a “rapprochement” with the EU.
The ‘doors are open’ narrative will only be fragmentary if it is not accompanied by a call for increased credibility on the path to EU membership, as well as ‘gradual integration » EU policies, programs and market as part of the accession process.
WB has already started this by combining our efforts to build on the common market as the EU’s single market, keep borders open with green lanes for food and medicine during the pandemic, create a zone without homelessness, joining the European Single Payments Area, achieving mutual recognition on various services and licenses with the EU, to name a few.
I see this approach as a ‘necessity’ instead of succumbing to the ‘do’ impulse of debates on how long it will take for Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Western Balkans to join definitively in the EU.
We know that we have to learn to live with a feeling of constant uncertainty. The fairly good relationship between the WB and the EU can be comforting, but it should be encouraging for the future.
Resilience in unity, solidarity, determination, cooperation and the allocation of billions of euros to the European Defense Fund by the European Commission or to the European Western Balkans Investment Plan are negligible. But they are not enough. The preconditions for EU security and stability extend beyond its official borders. They are just as much worn by its aspiring neighbors.
We are not only Europeans because we subscribe to the values enshrined in the treaties of the European Union. We are Europeans because we have chosen to be. This does not detract from the merit-based EU accession process.
“Beyond differences and geographical borders, there is a common interest,” said Jean Monnet.
And he was so right!
Majlinda Bregu is the Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council. She served as Albanian Minister for European Integration and government spokesperson in the Sali Berisha cabinet between 2007 and 2013.
This article was originally published on EURACTIV.com