EU does not have a strategic vision for the region

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 24, 2021 13:17

EU does not have a strategic vision for the region

The latest meeting in the ministers for European and Foreign affairs in Luxemburg prior to the EU Council one, failed to generate any progress in the now utterly boring and discouraging saga of “setting a date for the first ICG” for Albania and North Macedonia. This time it is Bulgaria who insists on vetoing North Macedonia upon issues of alleged ethnic identity and language appropriation. 

It is not worth it to examine and comment upon the futility and aggressiveness approach of Bulgaria and its demands that infringe upon the very same EU values. This is just the next obstacle after Greece stalled the process for more than 20 years, after France suddenly remembered to ask for a new methodology and so on. 

Despite the fact that it is clear to all that these are very symbolic and technical steps, the EU integration is being saddled with some much delays, missteps and loss of trust that it is starting to put into question whether the EU has indeed, as it likes to proclaim, any strategic vision for the region at all.

Take the enlargement mode for the region which has oscillated from the “regional approach” of the Thessaloniki Summit (seems a century ago!), an approach that worked well for Central European countries’ accession to the famous Regatta line- everyone according to its merits. Even though critics of Regatta make very valid points, at least it has a simple and comprehensible logic of progress. 

However the current de facto position is not Regatta, but a curious and random coupling which sees Albania paired with North Macedonia and Serbia paired with Montenegro. incidentally Bosnia is also paired with Kosovo probably under a label of despair. The coupling so far has produced no synergy, no forwardness, only one country becoming an obstacle for the other. 

Some years ago North Macedonia was held back by some EU members’ skepticism towards albania reforms and now Albania cannot move forward given the Bulgarian veto. 

The only silver lining seems to be the relaxed approach with which the political class in both places seem to have taken these decisions. One could easily imagine a citation in which bilateral relations could be very strained and accusations would fly abc and forth. credit to both countries for choosing the higher path.

On the other hand the EU is choosing the chaotic, handle-as-you-may path which damages so much: it delegitimizes the conditionality, with every silly blockage providing an excellent alibi for the political establishment in the region not to proceed with reforms; it opens the doors wide for external third party influence and it imbues the process of integration with tension and hostility.  

The damage done to conditionality is immediate. Right after the decision Prime Minister Rama followed up on the absurd ridiculousness with his metaphors of integration being “a marriage in which one side is unwilling”. In increasingly authoritarian Albania when the majority is working daily to capture independent institutions the dwindling EU perspective looms large. whatever pressure the process would put on implementation of reforms will now be delayed if not diminished.

Words aside, the behavior of the EU indicates a lack of strategic vision for the region. Some have proposed dramatic  changes such as Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) in the decision making of the EU to avoid such roadblocks. However as with any malaise the first step is to recognize the problem. Reiterating with cliche words  that the Western Balkans belong to Europe while looking on  when member states sabotage them is not the way to go.  

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 24, 2021 13:17