European Western Balkans

Petříček and Korčok: The EU is not here to determine who is right or wrong on issues related to history, language or identity

Family photo of European Council members, 12 December 2019; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – The EU is not here to determine who is right or wrong on issues related to history, language or identity, we need a straightforward and foreseeable enlargement process that is based on measurable criteria, clear commitments and political will wrote in an op-ed for EU Observer, Foreign ministers of Czechia and Slovakia, Tomáš Petříček and Ivan Korčok.

They stressed that last December, Slovakia and Czechia were not in a position to support the draft Council conclusion on enlargement, adding that they were forced to act in order to prevent the enlargement from being dragged into historical issues and the EU into a role of an arbiter.

They reiterated that a strong EU needs a strong and stable neighbourhood.

“That has always been one of the key objectives of the EU enlargement policy – to help the countries with a prospect of EU membership to embrace the EU acquis and its values as well as to offer them a partnership of equals”, Petriček and Korčok wrote.

According to him, for Czechia and Slovakia, the enlargement is not just a pragmatic element of the Union’s ambitions – to enhance its place as a global player that cannot tolerate malign external influence in its neighbourhood.

“Our focus now is on the Western Balkan countries with a view to ensuring the security and stability of our closest neighbours. We should keep their European prospects explicit and open. The opposite would mean leaving the doors open to external powers that are very eager to make their way in with a purpose to dismantle and destabilise the European project”, they wrote.

In this context, an example of the EU sending mixed signals to the aspiring countries is its approach to North Macedonia.

“Over time, it had fulfilled all the conditions required, even the most difficult ones related to its own name. We doubt any current EU member state would have the capacity and will to do the same. Yet the promised reward of opening accession talks with the EU did not come. In 2019, the decision of the European Council to grant opening of the negotiations was postponed not once, but twice. Then last year, North Macedonia was confronted with yet another obstacle, and yet again was asked to comply with requests related to its national identity”, said Foreign ministers of Slovakia and Czechia.

They assessed in autumn last year, a new and fairly surprising request was made – to make the EU a collective judge of historical interpretations – of what is right, wrong, true and false in the past hundreds of years of history of the Balkans.

“Above all, at the end of the year, there was a request to make this judgement a formal part of the accession criteria. This would turn the EU into an arbiter of national histories. The EU would have to ponder at every stage of the enlargement negotiation the compliance of some countries with historical interpretations of the others. It is a natural role of the EU to be a moderator and a broker. Nevertheless, it should not collectively become a referee of disputes and misunderstandings of the past hundreds of years. This would be a major deviation from the principles that have so far governed the enlargement process and that are a part of our enhanced approach – transparency and predictability. Therefore, we do not support any direction that would sanction the interpretation of historical issues. The notion of North Macedonia’s obligation to rectify the alleged misinterpretation of history is not acceptable”, they wrote.

Additional conditions would open the way for further bilateral demands in the future, potentially complicating the entire process for the years or even decades to come.

Petříček and Korčok concluded that the EU need a straightforward and foreseeable enlargement process that is based on measurable criteria, clear commitments and political will, adding that the conditions are many, the accession process is already complex and demanding and we must avoid introducing elements that include a high degree of interpretation and emotion.

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