BELGRADE – The fact that the sources of air pollution in the Western Balkans are solvable, but little is being done about it, is a debacle of politics, stated Aleksandra Tomanić, Executive Director of the European Fund for the Balkans, in the new episode of EWB Screening. She said, however, that environmental issues had proven to be a strong mobilising factor among the citizens, which is good news for democracy.
Asked about the opening of Cluster Four: Green Agenda and Sustainable Connectivity with Serbia in December, Tomanić assessed that it was a symbolic gesture and not based on merit.
“Albania and North Macedonia are blocked. Montenegro has opened everything that was to be opened, it has had a poor record of closing, so the only thing left is this symbolism with Serbia to open that one cluster, regardless of the fact that two could have been opened. I think that this cluster was opened exclusively because of that symbolic meaning to show that the policy of enlargement has not stopped”, she said
She assessed that it seemed that the EU currently has no answers for this region.
“The enlargement policy in the form in which it was conducted has not yielded the expected results. It is copied from the enlargement policy pursued with the Eastern Bloc countries, at a point when the historical context was completely different. …That methodology was just transferred to our region, which, in addition to the economic and political transition, has much bigger challenges, the post-war period, the creation of nation-states and it seems to me that we were wrong here because we focused exclusively on the process of European integration, and not the essence that our societies needed, and now we see the results of that”, Tomanić said.
She added that, in the meantime, the EU is no longer the beacon of the rule of law and democracy.
“And there is a bizarre situation that some member states that are friends of enlargement, in fact, are not friends of the EU, because they trample on EU values, have big problems with the rule of law and media freedom in their own countries, and countries that care about those values have ended up in the basket of the opponents of enlargement, so I think we need a redefinition here”, Tomanić said.
If the enlargement policy is in crisis, which it de facto is, the EU must find another type of answer if it wants to prevent the complete impoverishment and depopulation of this region, she stressed.
“We cannot access the Cohesion and Structural Funds, but we have seen the creativity of member states after the 2009 financial crisis and even now during the pandemic when it comes to the new financial instruments and mechanisms for their own members, so if there is political will, especially now when there is money and money is very cheap, a solution could be found. The Economic and Investment Plan is certainly not that, it is nine billion Euros for six countries in seven years. When it is calculated on an annual level, it is far from enough to level the growing differences”, she said.
Commenting on the environmental protests taking place in Serbia and elsewhere in the region, Tomanić said that the fact that these protests took place, the fact that environmental issues in the whole region have the mobilizing potential for people to finally express their disagreement, to finally demand their rights, which is very good news for democracy.
“New numbers from the European Environment Agency show 30,000 lives lost by the region solely as a result of polluted air. But I say, it doesn’t matter if it’s 30,000, 14,000, let it be 5,000, it’s too much. That we are losing our lives because of polluted air, and it is possible to solve the sources of pollution … It is a debacle of politics”, Tomanić emphasized.
She pointed out the work of the“ Balkans United for Clean Air” campaign initiated by the European Fund for the Balkans with the aim of informing the citizens and urging the governments of the region to react.
“We have a lot of knowledge in this region, we have extremely good experts, we are working in our campaign with organizations that have this topic, which has been dealing with these topics for years, and we as the European Fund have only connected it regionally and serve as a controller to make our messages clear. Because if they are clear to us laymen, they will be clear to other laymen as well. So it’s that kind of winning combination”, Tomanić said.
Speaking about the Conference on the Future of Europe, she added that she thought that a great opportunity was missed by the fact that the Western Balkans did not formally join it.
“Precisely because it is called the Conference on the Future of Europe, not the EU. And precisely because at the time it was launched, the whole enlargement process was already in deep crisis. I think that chance was missed to really show that this region is considered future members, whenever it is. Informal involvement, to me, seems like some kind of reduction of the damage done”, Tomanić concluded.