Europe puts Balkans on back burner

15 March 2006

Europe puts Balkans on back burner

After the initial euphoria surrounding the accession of ten new member states in 2004, the European Union is now drawing back from plans for further enlargement. "Romania and Bulgaria could well be the last new member states for a long time,” says SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer.

Tomorrow the European Parliament will vote in Strasbourg on the further enlargement of the European Union. It is not expected that the countries formed from the former Yugoslavia will in the short term be accepted into membership. "The western Balkans look like being palmed off with so-called 'neighbour status' rather than official membership,” Erik Meijer said in today's European Parliament plenary. Mr Meijer was speaking on behalf of the United Left Group (GUE/NGL), in which the SP participates. He criticised on a number of points the report on enlargement written by German Christian Democrat Elmar Brok. “It's a clear brake on the EU's enlargement,” he said, noting that the Union had raised false expectations in former Yugoslavia. “Europe interferes at every level and imposes its will and its law, but offers no solutions. It wants to have maximum influence in the western Balkans, for a minimum of effort. Newcomers such as Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo are evidently of no interest. They are too poor, too unreliable and they have come too late. It could well be twenty years before they can think of being admitted to the EU and that is a regrettable business when Europe raised huge expectations with the promise of membership."

There is clearly an ongoing change in thinking on enlargement. In the European Parliament a majority is now of the opinion that further enlargement will only become possible if the European Constitution is approved, and there is constant talk of the limited capacity of the Union to take on new members and of the lack of financial means. "It's going to be a very long time before new countries (can become members),” Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot said last weekend, while the same message is evident in the Declaration he signed along with his counterparts from other EU member states at the end of the EU's Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Salzburg, Austria last Saturday. This Declaration stated that the countries of the western Balkans must first establish regional cooperation, including a free trade zone. This customs union would represent an antechamber to eventual accession.

"The difference between our position and that of other political groups is that while we are against the Constitution, we are in favour of enlargement,” Erik Meijer said. "We shouldn't now suddenly become choosy and exclude less economically developed countries. Europe consists of 48 states and the countries of the former Yugoslavia belong with them." This includes Macedonia, which has since last year been recognised as a candidate for membership but which has yet to be given a date for the opening of negotiations on accession.

Erik Meijer is Rapporteur for the European Parliament on the question of Macedonia's application and will visit the country following this summer's elections. "Hopefully we will by then have a better idea when negotiations might begin," he said. In addition, he is a member of the European Parliament's interparliamentary delegation to the western Balkans and will next week travel to Dubrovnik in order to discuss the progress of negotiations with Croatia.

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