BELGRADE – The Russian invasion of Ukraine has once again demonstrated the importance of the Western Balkans for the EU’s own security and its capacity to act as a geopolitical player, it was concluded during the panel „EU Enlargement in new Geopolitical Circumstances: How to Use the New Impetus“ organized by Center for Contemporary Politics (CCP) at Belgrade Security Conference (BSC).
The panelists assessed that leaving the region in an enlargement limbo and thus open to various external as well as internal undemocratic influences tarnishes the EU’s own „geopolitical“ image and threatens the stability of the continent as a whole.
Klemen Grošelj, member of the European Parliament, said that he is more optimistic on the question oof EU enlargement in the future, underlining that “business as usual” will not be possible in the future.
According to him, the main question is how to switch Western Balkans from “national identity” issues towards real problem of its citizens, “from politics of pats to the politics of the future”. “The only real answe is functioning of democracy, all have all seen what happened in Hungary”, said Grošelj.
He said that th key factor in the enlargement process is the political will of the candidate countries for membership.
“There will always be problems in the accession negotiations, and Slovenia had a series of similar problems. However, the central thing is to find a solution in the end. The key problem in the countries of the Western Balkans is that the adopted laws are not implemented in such a way as to bring the countries closer to the standards of the European Union, but to strengthen the status quo”, said Grošelj
Luka Šterić, a Researcher at Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) pointed out that the spotlight of the European Union has returned to the region after ten years.
“This approach of turning a blind eye to the collapse of democratic standards for the sake of the stability of the region has led to the fact that the influence of Europe in the region is significantly weakened, but also, paradoxically, to a decrease in stability, said Šterić.
He assessed that incentives for countries to align with the EU Foreign Policy have to be tied to the rule of law. In contrary, Šterić believes that it will lead to democratic backsliding in the region of the Western Balkans.
“Regardless of geopolitical risks, EU is not interested in allowing non-democratic states to join”, said Šterić.
He assessed that in last period credibility of the EU failed in the region of the Western Balkans. He mentioned that Serbia as EU candidate countries is one captured stated. Accoridng to him, the enlaergment policy need some new approach, whih will put reforms, democracy and rule of law in the center of the accession process.
Srđan Majstorović, Chairman of the European Policy Center (CEP) assessed that war in Ukraine is a signal of what Europe may become, if we do not our strategic hats on. He said that aggression against Ukraine is a threat to the common future.
“The war against Ukraine represents a war against the right to self-determination, Majstorović pointed out, adding that it is important that the new Government of Serbia harmonizes with the foreign policy of the European Union, Majstorović pointed out.
He assessed that stabilocracy is a danger, adding that funkcioning of democratic societies could be endangered during crisis. “You mitigate this risk by dedicating yourself to democracy”, Majstorović added.
Spaking about enlargement process, Majstorović noted that there is growing gap between member and candidate countries. He assessed that the EU member states are also responsible for the current state of the enlargement policy.
„Candidate countries are not the only ones at fault, the enlargement fatigue within the EU is real“, says Majstorović adding that the enlargement fatigue is the perfect alibi for decision-makers in the Western Balkan countries to say „why should I change?“. According to him, it is essential for enlargement one common agenda how to integrate Europe until 2030.
Yvette Szepesi, Coordinator at European Neighbourhood and Enlargement Policy at Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, assessed that war in Ukraine gave new momentum also for the region of the Western Balkans and its path toward the EU.
“The EU unity should be also translated in the EU interests in the region of the Western Balkans. There is new momentum, we feel it in the EU Member states. We are facing an awful crisis, but is a momentum to engage, to make this family closer”, said Szepesi.
According to her, the ball is know again in the court of candidate countries. “EU Commission reports are clear, there is some progress here-and-there, but not enough. The countries of the region should continue to implement necessary reforms”, said Szepesi.