EU – the Western Balkans: EU to make yet another historical mistake and unjust decision

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. In view of the announced speech on EU enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans that will be delivered by the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the plenary session of the European Parliament on 6 February 2018,IFIMES has prepared an analysis of the possible consequences of that speech and EU enlargement plans. The most relevant and interesting sections from the analysis entitled “EU – the Western Balkans:  EU to make yet another historical mistake and unjust decision” are published below.

EU – the Western Balkans:

EU to make yet another historical mistake and unjust decision

In his address to the European Parliament in September 2017 President of the European Commission (EC) Jean-Claude Juncker stressed that EU supports the accelerated accession process of Western Balkan states. He pointed to the Republic of Serbia and Montenegro as the main favourites for the accession.

Despite the fact that the Republic of Serbia represents the main initiator of political instability and consequently insecurity in the region, and although he subsequently corrected his statement with the explanation that the door to the EU is open to all the states, Jean-Claude Juncker still sticks to his position that Serbia and Montenegro enjoy certain priority in the EU accession process among Western Balkan states while the other states are subject to the so called regatta approach.

Unfortunately the EU continues its policy of imposing the hardest conditions for membership on Bosnia and Herzegovina and on Macedonia, although these two countries are actually most in need of EU's help and support.

While Macedonia is trying to resolve – strongly supported by the USA and most of the EU – its disputes with the neighbouring countries and especially with Greece with the aim to join NATO and the EU, Bosnia and Herzegovina again and again receives nothing but verbal support from the EU.

Zaev and Zvizdić as promoters of positive processes

Prime Minister of the Republic of Macedonia Zoran Zaev and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina Denis Zvizdić are the two politicians in the region who promote the most positive political trends and processes in the Western Balkans and beyond. They are both making efforts to strengthen their states and bring them closer to the EU and NATO. Zaev is on the good road to resolve the most difficult political issues in the region, including the name dispute with Greece and Macedonia's relations with Bulgaria.Regarding the latter the Republic of Macedonia has signed the historical agreement on good neighbourly relations with Bulgaria, which has been ratified by the Macedonian and Bulgarian parliaments. Negotiations with Greece are also developing in the positive direction of finding the possible mutually acceptable solution, while the issue of relations with Albanians has been resolved through the regulation of the use of Albanian language and the languages of ethnic minorities, which also contributes to a better internal integration of the country. Zaev has also resolved in the best possible way Serbia's interference in Macedonia's internal affairs, thus showing that he is a politician who builds the wellbeing of his country and multi-ethnic society based on communication, negotiations and compromises. Denis Zvizdić is another politician in the region who firmly supports the Euro-Atlantic integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina and who has managed to unblock the integration and accession processes after almost eight years of deadlock. The 31st defence site has been registered for the activation of BiH's MAP, application for EU membership has been submitted and these days BiH will send the questionnaire to the European Commission on the basis of which the country's candidacy status will be decided. Under Zvizdić's presidency all these processes have been unblocked in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While Montenegro received its candidacy status in 2010, Serbia in 2012 and Albania in 2014, Bosnia and Herzegovina's candidacy was blocked during the 2008-2015 period. With the election of Zvizdić in 2015 and Zaev in 2017, the Western Balkans has gained new energy with the two leaders who can and who want to create the atmosphere of trust, establish agreement and find compromises in order to enable Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to become full EU and NATO members.

The leading EU states forgot very quickly that Bosnia and Herzegovina was and still is the state that is most in need of EU's support bearing in mind the events in late 1990s. Analysts have noted that it should not be forgotten that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SRJ) and its successor Serbia and Montenegro were the main factors of instability in the region and in the EU, and that the expansionist wars led by Slobodan Milošević forced the international community, notably the USA and EU under NATO's auspices, to intervene in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995 and in Serbia in 1999 where it carried out military activities for three months in order to stop the crimes against Albanians in Kosovo.

Election in Bosnia and Herzegovina – the trigger of possible conflicts

The upcoming parliamentary election in BiH scheduled for 7 October 2018 my trigger eventual conflicts within the country.  Milorad Dodik (SNSD) is the planner and organiser of all the activities that have led to destabilisation of BiH and the region. He enjoys support not only from Serbia but also from Dragan Čović (HDZBiH)and a part of HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) of the Republic of Croatia. As the constitutive nation the Bosniaks will most probably be divided into over 200 parties and independent lists at this year's election. The Republic of Croatia has strong financial ties with Russia, which has repercussions for the complete security operations of NATO and the security situation in the EU. Croatian (counter)intelligence agencies do not cover Russian intelligence and military activities in the region and there is no kind of cooperation between Croatia (which is an EU and NATO member) and the states in the region when it comes to Russian activities, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Milorad Dodik performs the training of his (para)military units through security guard services that are mostly owned by his friends. The training is carried out mostly in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Serbia's current politics resembles that of Slobodan Milošević, with the only difference that today Serbia strongly relies on the  support and assistance from Russia. The political and church activities and rhetoric in Serbia are identical as they were in late 1990s. However, today there is no JNA (Yugoslav National Army) and Serbia is just like Russia surrounded by NATO member states. While the politics led by Serbia is still aimed at manipulating Serbs living outside its territory thus jeopardizing the security of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and even Croatia, the EU is increasingly trying to flatter Serbia – the state that NATO regards as an unfriendly organisation and the aggressor.

The EU should change its attitude towards BiH and Macedonia

The EU should change its attitude towards the states that were the victims of SRJ's (i.e. Serbia's) expansionist politics, especially towards Bosnia and Herzegovina which was also exposed to aggression from the Republic of Croatia. Instead, the EU should favour the politicians who have proven with their attitude and activities that they are sincerely devoted to Euro-Atlantic integration processes.

There is strong doubt whether Aleksandar Vučić, Milorad Dodik, Hashim Thaçi, Vučić's Srb in Kosovo Goran Rakić, Nikola Gruevski, Andrija Mandić, Milan Knežević and Dragan Čović actually support European integration, while the opposite can be said about the pro-European politicians Zoran Zaev, Denis Zvizdić, Edi Rama, Duško Marković and Albin Kurti.

While Aleksandar Vučić and others from the first group of politicians generate problems, Zoran Zaev and the pleiad of young politicians from the region still haven't received adequate support from the EU. Therefore the EU should urgently change its attitude towards Western Balkans and focus on the states and political leaders that are sincerely pro-European oriented and that strive to resolve the most difficult political and security challenges with unsparing energy and enthusiasm, bearing in mind the interest of their states, the Western Balkans and the EU – they should get all the assistance and support on their road to EU and NATO accession in order to make this process as fast as possible.

Aleksandar Vučić is the synonym of all nationalists in the region. By favouring Vučić and Serbia, the EU is showing indirect support to all nationalist forces that dream about new borders in the Balkan region, including Dodik, Čović, Mandić and Gruevski.

By supporting the politicians and states that not only insincerely cooperate in integration processes but also put spokes in the wheels of other Western Balkan states, the EU acts against its own interests and deteriorates the security situation in the Balkans and in Europe.

Support to Zaev would at the same time represent support to Zvizdić and to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and support to Zvizdić would be understood as support to Albin Kurti and to Kosovo. EU's support to democratic political forces in the Western Balkans is the key to resolving the crisis in this region. The EU has to make a very responsible and hard decision whether to support political leaders and states that undermine the security of the Western Balkans and Europe or to take the harder path and support democracy and enthusiastic young politicians who have decided to deal with the nationalistic and autocratic regimes in Western Balkans. That is why further attacks and intensified pressures at Zaev and Zvizdić may be expected in the future.

Analysts urge the EU and especially Germany to consider granting EU membership to those states that sincerely support the EU integration process and to give special priority to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Macedonia rather than to Serbia which was the trigger of all wars in the late 1990s and which is still one of the factors of instability in the region.

Showing support to democratically elected governments and politicians in the region that sincerely support Euro-Atlantic integration processes is the best signpost to the future of the EU, while at the same time it should not forget the precedents used when granting membership to Romania, Bulgaria and some other states.

Announcements of the EU and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that next enlargement would take place in 2025 mentioning Serbia and Montenegro as the main candidates from the Western Balkans to join the European Union while other states will be left to uncertainty and Serbia's “willingness” to block other states in the region on their way to European integration, would represent a political and moral failure and yet another EU's historical mistake and unjust decision that would have far-reaching consequences for the future of the region and the whole European continent.

Ljubljana, 2 February 2018