He asked why the EU advocates a policy that compares it to Sisyphus, who was doomed to constantly pushing a huge rock uphill and never reached the top.
Timothy Les, a researcher at Cambridge University, believes that EU politicians simply do not know what else to do with the Balkans.
– What does it mean when the EU at one point admits that its policy towards the Balkans does not work, and then starts advocating again for the implementation of the same policy? Is it a sign of optimism or despair – Les asked in the author’s text for the Belgrade Media Center.
He stated that he was asking this question because of the renewed commitment of politicians across Europe to try to enlarge the EU once again.
Les reminded that last month the European Commission issued a new strategic document calling for “increased engagement” in the Balkans, and that at the request of Croatia, the Council of Europe held an extraordinary discussion in Brussels on how to act towards this region.
– Politicians have also launched an initiative to enable the integration of Albania and Northern Macedonia. German Foreign Minister Heiko Mas visited both countries and demanded the start of membership talks in June. Portugal, as the EU presidency, has announced a proposal to resolve the dispute between Skopje and Bulgaria over the question of whether Macedonians are actually Bulgarians. EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varheji has demanded that Albania and Northern Macedonia’s EU membership bid be separated so that at least one of them can continue negotiations. Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia have issued a statement supporting Northern Macedonia’s application for EU membership, and the Dutch government no longer opposes the continuation of Albania’s integration, Les said.
He emphasized that all this is consistent with the official EU policy towards the Balkans during the last twenty years, which views the integration of this region as a way to solve open ethnic problems.
– It is believed that the award in the form of final membership in the EU encourages a positive process of internal reforms that include democracy, the rule of law and a sufficient degree of progress to calm hidden ethnic tensions. If the problems of divided nations remain current, it is believed that membership should solve them by integrating the region into a larger entity without internal borders, in which Albanians, Croats and Serbs will be able to achieve a kind of national unification – said Les.
However, he added, the direct initiator of this renewed attempt to integrate the Balkans is not hope, but panic encouraged by the “Slovenian non-paper”.
– After the publication of that document, politicians throughout the EU one after another condemned its basic ideas. EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell described the discussion on the new borders as “dangerous and unacceptable”. In the European Parliament, Viola von Cramon-Taubadel rejected ‘ideas of ethnic division and secession’. Miroslav Lajcak stated that changes in the borders risk “war in the region”. In order to prevent all that, the politicians have once again decided to renew the long-term EU policy on the integration of the Balkans, which, in their opinion, can prevent the alleged evil of nationalism – Les pointed out.
As explained in the Commission’s strategy paper, he added, this can be achieved if all parties involved show greater political will.
– EU members must have more enthusiasm for the idea of Balkan integration. The countries of the region, such as Serbia, must make greater efforts in fulfilling the conditions of the EU by resolving the issue of the status of Kosovo, establishing democracy and the rule of law, and harmonizing their foreign policy with the EU – Les emphasized.
In a text for the Belgrade Media Center, he stated that in all this, it is strange that, despite the fact that people like Borel insist on new attempts to enlarge the EU, his strategic document admits that the given policy does not work.
– More precisely, the document says that the enlargement process is blocked by “a complex set of conditions and procedures due to which the Western Balkans will never escape its Sisyphus destiny.” This is really true. Eight years after the start of negotiations, the most advanced country in the region, Montenegro, has closed only three of the EU’s 33 negotiating chapters, followed by Serbia, with two of the 35 chapters. In contrast, the countries of Central Europe began and completed the process in less than four years, from 1998 to 2002. Moreover, there is little chance that this stalemate will be overcome. The region is paralyzed by a series of unresolved national problems that prevent its integration into the EU. BiH cannot become a member of the EU because the integration process has become another scene in the internal political war regarding the future – or the non-existence of the future of this country – Les stated.
According to him, Serbia cannot gain membership as long as it is in conflict with Brussels over external borders.
– The EU says that Serbia excludes Pristina. Serbs obviously disagree and claim that this is the end