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NO 155-156

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 1 > Helsinki Charter No. 155-156 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 155-156

September - October 2011

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Serbia's EU Candidacy and Kosovo


By Vladimir Gligorov

"Kosovo is Serb Hollywood"

(Emir Kusturica)

"Reality is not a measure of things"

(Metropolitan Amfilohije)

Since 1990s conditions for EU accession have been the same for all. However, the manner in which these conditions are applied has changed. The main reason why it is so is that the European Commission is less and less capably of influencing the member-states, which, once in that status, can veto any decision that must be made unanimously. Besides, the system of trading votes has not been developed yet within EU so that the countries opposing this decision or that do not suffer the consequences for their uncooperativeness. Therefore, the European Union is now more strict than before about conditions that are or are not met - and not only when it comes to accession but also the enlargement of the free movement zone. As it seems its attitude towards any future enlargement of euro-zone will be the same regardless of how the present crisis is resolved.

There is no need for specifying these conditions here - they are almost a common knowledge. What needs to be singled out, however, is that EU now pays more heed that potential member-states settle their key, constitutional problems, domestic and foreign relations and, in the first place, their relations with neighboring countries before obtaining full-fledged membership. The movement towards EU is much harder for the countries facing big and many problems. For their part, general public in these countries perceive this as additional conditioning though it only reflects their grudge for the fact that EU can be less and less used as a means for solving problems to their own advantage.

All the countries affected by this changed strategy for integration are in this region of the Balkans, including Turkey. For instance, Cyprus is often quoted as a case of accession that preceded resolution of a territorial dispute. The European Union had assumed that "internalization of external conflicts" was the best way to have these conflicts solved through agreement rather than through military confrontation. It had assumed that the prospects for integration are by themselves stimulative enough to remove the risk of an armed conflict and that a membership fostered cooperation and peaceful resolution of conflicts. If historically burdened and difficult disputes in both Western and Eastern Europe had been solved in this way, why shouldn't that be the case in the Balkans or, more specifically, in Cyprus? Such was the reasoning. But, as it turned out, the method was not universally applicable. Countries have to be ready for solving mutual disputes by peaceful, political and legal means - and such readiness seemed questionable in the political reality of the Balkans. So it happened that together with Cyprus EU imported a problem it can solve in no way. Moreover, it now has no other choice but to gradually become a service for the interests of one of its member-states - even when it comes to that country's internal affairs, let alone its relations with non-members.

The case of Macedonia reflects the same problem. Once again, the past disputes considered by far more difficult in many aspects - such as, say, the right of member states Germany and Italy to restitution or just the right of member-states to buy real estate in non-members like Czech Republic and Slovenia at the time - were easier for European Union to settle without bias. However, for the time being that's impossible when it comes to Greek-Macedonian dispute over the latter's name. European Union is blocked, to put it mildly, hindered from influencing the settlement of this dispute. This only logically leads to the conclusion the existing problems in the Balkans should be solved prior to a Balkan country's integration into European Union. Otherwise, that country would import its problem and EU has no instrument for solving it at present.

This is the reason why Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina are expected to solve all their domestic and regional problems before accession. For instance, the process of Albania's integration has been following so far the same pattern applied to most Middle European or Eastern Balkan countries (Rumania and Bulgaria). EU does not expect to have any of Albania's problems with neighboring countries imported with its accession, which, therefore, mostly depends on the speed of Albania's institutional and political reforms. Things were somewhat different in the case of Croatia - its policy for Bosnia-Herzegovina was problematic first and then its attitude towards ICTY. Now EU assumes that Croatia will be playing a constructive role in the Balkan region and solving the remaining problems or those that might arise in line with EU's predominant strategy, cooperation and respect for the interest of others rather than the use of force or veto. Whether this will be so remains to be seen. True, in the meantime political relations and attitudes within European Union are changing towards establishment of the "price of veto," which is supposed to further discipline the member-states.

So three countries remain - Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo - where accession is not expected to facilitate resolution of domestic and mutual problems, which is why EU insists on settlements prior to further movement towards it and eventual integration. For once launched accession negotiations can result in membership only - hence, possible deadlocks, standstills and misunderstandings could be rather embarrassing as they generate conflict situations, which is contrary to the process itself. Moreover, they compromise the entire accession process and not only poison bilateral relations. For all this, no risks must be taken, meaning that problems must be solved before the launch of official negotiations.

These problems do not derive from relationship with European Union - they either have nothing to do with it, are inherited or could arise in the process of accession. In Serbia's, domestic problems have obviously nothing to do with EU's activity. But they may be perceived as interconnected if adjustment to domestic institutions to EU's institutions is taken as something contrary to Serbia's interest. This relates to regionalization and understanding of the concept of human rights. If general public in Serbia holds that, say, autonomy of Vojvodina or regionalization in some other part of the country are incompatible with the so-called state and national interests, criticism of these issues as EU's conditioning makes no sense. It only indicates that the country is still not ready for accession or is totally incompatible with European Union. In that case integration should not be aspired to.

The same refers to scores of other problems considered to originate from some changes people actually do not wish to make. These changes are propagated as "new preconditions" though they are nothing but adjustments to EU institutions, which are the sum and substance of the integration process. So this is a problem rather than a precondition. A country not ready to solve these problems or sees them as something corresponding to its interests rather than problematic should not aspire at all at EU accession.

The same applies to the crucial problems challenging these three Balkan countries. Serbia-Kosovo normalization leading towards mutual recognition is not EU's precondition but the only way to accession. So, that's not a precondition but a problem. Both countries are free to decide whether to this problem would be solved easier through accession process, the same as they as free to decide to remain in the state of a long-term conflict (actually, an eternal conflict if one literally interprets the slogan "we shall never recognize /Kosovo/." European Union would not - or would not any more - internalize such conflict with no way out. If may try if there is any hope that the problem would be solved ultimately. But that strategy would be highly risky drawing from the bad experience in the Balkans. As things stand now, it should be ruled out.

And, again, the same applies to Bosnia-Herzegovina and its pronounced rhetoric about malicious interference by foreign actors. According to this rhetoric, the plan is to have Bosnia centralized and Republika Srpska resolved rather than to have the country integrated into European Union. However, it is obvious - at least to the extent constitutional strengthening of Bosnia-Herzegovina is connected with its membership of EU - that the main reason why this country is conditioned with settling internal problems is that EU would not have them imported. Simply, Bosnia-Herzegovina's institutions have to be adjusted to those in the European Union - otherwise the Union would import the problems it has no resources to solve. As testified by the right to veto, a member-state can try to pass on its problems to the Union. And that's why the demands that countries should solve their key constitutional problems even before starting accession negotiations are growingly strict.

Serbia has to make a serious decision if it really wants to move towards European Union and become a member-state. That means that it has to solve the problems challenging it in line with the postulates of a "future" membership. If the general public accepts the arguments that solving these problems by the use of European values is contrary to the country's national and state identity - ergo, if it holds that constant conflicts, internal and external, better suit the identity issue - then there is no doubt that the country will never meet the conditions for EU membership. And this is all not about conditions as such but about the importance attached to maintaining conflicts both within the society and with neighbors. As things stand, looking for a "culprit" makes little sense if the policy for EU integration stands no chance.


NO 155-156

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