The role of the EU in destabilising Southeastern Europe

Author: Ivan Torov
Uploaded: Wednesday, 24 December, 2008

Lucid critique, translated from the Belgrade-based PeŇ°canik website, of the way in which EU mistakes and weaknesses have encouraged first Greece, then Slovenia and in the latter's wake Serbia to make trouble for their neighbours

It seems that EU membership brings advantages that are not solely of an economic and financial nature. This is what Slovenia, to take one example, has proved in recent days with its threat - at the very end of Zagreb’s negotiations with the EU - to block Croatia’s entry on the grounds of its alleged ‘claims to Slovenian territory’. The propaganda war that has been simmering for months has now erupted into full view, and Brussels - was this not expected?- has acquired yet one more vexing problem.

That this is not merely a bit of artless pressure by Slovenia on a former ‘fraternal Yugoslav republic’, in order to make it alter its obdurate position on a contentious territorial issue, is illustrated by the equally bullish recent behaviour of another EU state - Greece. At the start of 2008, Greece blocked Macedonia’s entry into NATO (in a package that included also Croatia and Albania), declaring that it would not ‘tolerate territorial claims from the north’. Greece, which sees itself as the exclusive heir to European civilisation, has warned Macedonia that it should change its name, and indeed its national identity, history and language. In effect, the whole lot. Brussels tacitly sided with Greece, as a result of which a state that has chronic problems with all its neighbours has been encouraged to be even more arrogant and aggressive. Macedonia, though a NATO candidate for the past three years, was stopped in its tracks; and the list of conditions that it still has to meet now includes also a change of name. This young state in the former Yugoslav area consequently finds itself in something of a domestic and international impasse.

Greece seized the opportunity - for the second time in a relatively short period of time - to use the right of veto that it enjoys as a full EU member. When the EU finally decided to accept a divided Cyprus - or rather, the Greek part of the island - it in practice gave Athens carte blanche to behave as a regional arbiter, to whom everything is allowed. One victim of this has been Turkey, with its ‘eternal’ candidature, which is being asked to stop supporting the Turkish side of Cyprus if it wants to join the EU.

What - in the case of Cyprus - appeared as an exception has since become the rule. Others too have come to wield the instrument of veto in order to impose their will on their non-EU neighbours. Wishing no doubt to make life easier for itself by having its future members solve their conflicts with their neighbours in advance, the EU has in fact made a strategic error by securing a privileged position for its members that allows them in effect to play the role of a regional policeman. Its seemingly neutral, yet in reality partisan, behaviour thus stimulates in reality the escalation of ‘local’ crises, both real and potential. Greece has taken ample advantage of this privileged position by issuing ultimata: yesterday to Turkey, today to Macedonia, and tomorrow - to judge by some signs - to Albania too. The virus, as we have recently been able to witness, has been caught also by Slovenia, which - learning from the Greek experience - views the concluding negotiations regarding the entry into the EU of Croatia as its last chance to insist on compliance by the latter with Slovenian demands.

Slovenia’s tactic has encouraged Serbia, in particular, not to hurry with normalisation of its relations with Croatia. The newly appointed Croatian ambassador to Belgrade is still waiting to present his credentials, and Serbian officials conceal the fact that the Croatian prime minister Sanader is ready to visit Belgrade. Serbia is keen not to do anything that would help Croatia, in view of its own numerous conflicts with Zagreb. Slovenia’s behaviour is providing Serbian president Boris Tadic with a model for how Serbia itself might act if and when it becomes a member of the EU. Although Serbia’s pro-European course is currently being revised, some calculations remain intact. One is that, even if it would be best for Serbia to join the EU with Kosovo as part of it, if this proves impossible then - as a full EU member, and aided by sympathetic EU states - Serbia will be in a position to block Kosovo’s own adhesion to the EU. Also, since Belgrade is convinced that it will join the EU before Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina, as an EU member it could also influence the dynamic of these two states’ own process of integration into the EU. All this on condition, of course, that Serbia’s own membership is not tied to prior recognition by it of the fact of Kosovo’s independence.

Translated from a longer text published on the Peščanik.net website of Belgrade’s independent Radio B92, 20 December 2008

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