LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Kukan on Schily's "If the EU reneges on Balkan enlargement, it's at its own peril"
The Union should maintain the momentum for enlargement without making false promises, which would damage its credibility in the region.
Otto Schily says the European Union is “stumbling” on the road to enlargement in the western Balkans. I think the term “wobbling” is more accurate, given that the EU is not hesitating over the principle of whether to proceed; it is simply trying to work out how to go about it. This type of hesitation is only natural in the circumstances.
Despite all the recent talk about enlargement fatigue, there is broad agreement about the strategic importance of the western Balkans; past experience amply confirms it. Within the region, the mere prospect of integration has a positive impact, offering as it does the potential solution to various ethnic and national conflicts. It represents one of the major issues which all countries in the region can agree upon; it mobilises internal reforms and, more importantly, ultimately it gets the people’s support.
Whether we like it or not, however, there are no short-cuts on the path to EU membership. It is right that the western Balkans, like any other region, should fulfil all the EU’s conditions, starting with the Copenhagen criteria and including the lengthy process of adjustment to common EU standards. Both the region’s political leaders and its citizens share the responsibility for meeting these obligations.
Yet the EU also has responsibilities towards the western Balkans. The Union should maintain the momentum for enlargement without making false promises, which would damage its credibility in the region. The EU should also address the mixed messages being sent out to the people of the region due to the lack of popular support within the Union for more western Balkan members. Schily recommends that current member states reaffirm their Thessaloniki commitment to accept all western Balkan countries which meet the membership criteria in full. But will hostile public opinion be changed by yet another EU statement of intent? I doubt it. In my opinion, the problem lies elsewhere. For EU leaders, I think it is a matter of promoting the whole process more actively in front of their sceptical electorates. For the western Balkans, it is a matter of delivering sound results.
I believe that the EU is a credible player with an important mission to perform in the western Balkans. I am glad that the principle of enlargement is not in doubt. With more regional applications for membership coming up, it is time to stop wobbling and get on with the job.