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[ALBSA-Info] EU and Albania II

Agron Alibali aalibali at
Mon Jan 27 18:17:38 EST 2003


RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 7, No. 13, Part II, 22 January 2003

By Patrick Moore

Many people in the western Balkans concluded by the end of
2002 that the EU had little time for them. NATO did not invite any of
them to join the alliance at its Prague summit in November. But NATO
at least held out some prospects for membership in the next round of
expansion for Partnership for Peace members Albania, Croatia, and
Bosnia and Yugoslavia are not so far along the road to NATO,
but the Bosnians at least know that setting up a common Defense
Ministry is the main obstacle keeping them from membership in
Partnership for Peace. The authorities in Belgrade, for their part,
are fully aware that membership for them depends on cooperation with
the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, establishing transparent
civilian control over the military, and purging the officer corps of
war criminals.
The EU has been less forthcoming with criteria and timetables
than NATO, to the point that many in the Balkans have concluded the
five countries will be kept indefinitely in limbo. This could be
particularly problematic in the cases of Bosnia and Yugoslavia, which
are the farthest from meeting EU, as well as NATO criteria. The
danger there is that these two countries could become centers of
organized crime, smuggling, and corruption in such a way as to become
a sort of "black hole" in the midst of the EU.
Croatia could pose a problem of a different sort. As the
"Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 28 December, many Croats
fear they have been lumped together with four countries less advanced
along the road to meeting EU standards than they are. Those Croats
feel their country has been sacrificed like a pawn in a chess game to
plans by some powerful forces in Brussels to recreate a regional
Balkan association based in Belgrade -- and kept outside the door of
full membership in the EU. If such perceptions continue and become
widespread, the EU could discover some day that it has unwittingly
helped anti-European, nationalist politicians on the right to come to
power in Zagreb.
But matters are looking up for those in the western Balkans
who want to join the EU. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung"
reported from Brussels on 11 January that a recent EU study showed
that Albania, Kosova, and Yugoslavia have made great economic
progress since the Kosova conflict ended in 1999. One might suggest
that any such progress looks impressive because these countries were
so badly off that they had nowhere to go but up. Nonetheless, the
fact that an EU report drew such a conclusion suggests Brussels might
be moving away from the message it only recently sent even to
Croatia: Don't call us; we'll call you.
Indeed, there seems to be movement in the EU toward
encouraging the countries of the western Balkans, without lowering
Brussels' standards. The catalyst appears to be the Greek EU
Presidency, which began at the start of this year. From 13-15
January, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou made a whirlwind
tour of the five countries, where his message was largely positive.
For example, he let Croatia know that its hopes of catching up with
Romania and Bulgaria and joining the EU in 2007 are realistic. He
also reassured Albania that stabilization and association talks will
begin soon.
Even EU Commission President Romano Prodi has been upbeat on
the Balkans recently, saying that the bloc's "doors are open" to the
countries of the region.
Meanwhile, the Greek EU Presidency can be expected to provide
the leadership for its neighbors that many had wished that Greece --
as the only Balkan country belonging to both the EU and NATO -- had
provided as soon as communism collapsed in the region over a decade
ago. The Greek EU Presidency will be followed by that of Italy for
the second half of 2003, and Albania in particular is expecting good
things from its powerful neighbor.
Questions, of course, remain. The biggest issue is perhaps
whether Yugoslavia and Bosnia can put their houses in sufficient
order to meet even minimal EU standards, particularly where the roles
of mafia structures in politics, business, and the military are
Second, the EU will have to take great care not to let those
two countries fall so far behind the others that Bosnia and
Yugoslavia become isolated. At the same time, Brussels cannot afford
to lower its standards for the two, lest Croatia and other hopefuls
feel that they have become the victims of a policy of double
standards and some sinister Western plot to reestablish Belgrade as
the dominant regional center.
Third, all five countries have their homework to do in
meeting EU criteria for membership. Politicians in some of them might
start by showing more responsibility by rejecting the culture of
boycotting parliaments and other institutions that is endemic in much
of the region.
Fourth, the status question will have to be addressed sooner
rather than later where Kosova is concerned, and probably Montenegro
as well. The EU should respect the decisions of the majority of the
voters who live there and not try to impose solutions from outside.
Zoepel's suggestion regarding the prospect of a common EU citizenship
should not be overlooked.
Finally, everyone concerned should be realistic about their
expectations. People in the region are deluding themselves if they
expect that EU membership will automatically bring them Dutch living
standards and a massive infusion of money without efforts and
sacrifices on their part.
It will in any event be interesting to see how the EU evolves
once its expansion into Eastern Europe and the Balkans is complete.
Will it become an increasingly bloated bureaucracy in which important
issues can be settled by a telephone call between the French
president and German chancellor, or will it develop into a more
transparent and democratic community of which all its citizens can be

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