EU integration is way to keep Balkan-style warring at bay
Irish Times; Mar 18, 2006
WorldView: The death of Slobodan Milosevic is a sharp reminder of a
dark period in European history after the end of the Cold War.
Such a geopolitical transformation could have led to a generalised
conflict throughout the former Soviet sphere, where minority
populations were left stranded in newly independent states, similar
to the situation in disintegrating Yugoslavia. In fact this happened
only in the Balkans. The reasons remain highly relevant for the future
Milosevic created a lethal combination of Stalinism and Serb
nationalism to maintain his hold on power as Yugoslavia fell apart.
His strategy involved mobilising the Serb minorities in Croatia,
Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Montenegro towards a greater Serbia by
war and ethnic cleansing. Psychologically, he relied on a combination
of victimhood and blame, making him simultaneously a pyromaniac and
It could have worked had he stopped in 1992 after applying the formula
in Croatia and Bosnia; but the dynamics of the wars already in train
and of the international response prevented that. Thereafter, he was
effectively kept in power by the international standoff over Bosnia, in
which Britain resolutely opposed military action to relieve Sarajevo;
and then by the 1995 Dayton accord which held until Nato’s intervention
in Kosovo in 1999, which precipitated his downfall the following year.
His 13 years in power coincided with huge change elsewhere in
Europe. In the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, in
Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia, and in Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia,
Czechoslovakia and Hungary, there was a similar mix of minorities
and majorities which could have triggered conflicts comparable to
those in the western Balkans during the 1990s. National minorities,
newly nationalising states and external national homelands such as
Russia or Hungary could have been prey to a Milosevic-type logic.
That this was not so requires explanation and understanding in equal
measure. The American journalist Elizabeth Pond put it well in her
study published in 1999, The Rebirth of Europe: “The new paradigm is
not, after all, the atrocities of former Yugoslavia, or even the old
nineteenth century balance-of-power jostling. It is an unaccustomed
reconciliation in the heart of Europe, between France and Germany,
Germany and Poland, Poland and Ukraine, Romania and Hungary, Germany
and The Netherlands.”
Seven years on, one can add, tentatively, to this list a gradual
normalisation of relations between Russia and the former Soviet
states. And one can see much more clearly that the precedent set by
Slovenia, which escaped Yugoslavia nearly unscathed in 1991 and is
now a member of the European Union, is the one the other successor
states wish to follow. Croatia is likely to join the EU by 2009,
shortly after Bulgaria and Romania. And by 2020, Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia may have brought
it to a membership of 34. If Turkey joins then too, the existing 25
member-states would have grown to 35 in 16 years.
The EU’s enlargement from 15 to 25 between 1995 and 2004 – with the
exception of Cyprus and Malta, all of them from the heart of central
and eastern Europe – is justifiably seen as an outstanding foreign
policy success. By laying down norms and values, providing aid and
investment and imposing them in prolonged membership negotiations,
the EU created a new hegemony over other European institutions which
contributed immeasurably to that reconciliation.
The notions of rejoining or returning to Europe were powerful
instruments encouraging elites to reform and reconcile rather
than plan for war or ethnic cleansing. And the eventual reward of
EU membership is what now drives similar movements of reform in
the western Balkans. This perspective has made Milosevic’s formula
redundant there. Should the commitment to EU enlargement be slackened,
the Balkan region could revert to other methods.
A large question facing the EU now is whether that point has been
reached after the constitutional treaty fell in the French and
Dutch referendums last year. The treaty deepened the EU the better
to enlarge it, but did it fall on enlargement or deepening? Can an
enlarged EU function without the structural and procedural changes
contained in the treaty? Could many of them be introduced without
treaty change? Or will the constitution need to be amended?
The current Austrian EU presidency is orchestrating a debate and
decision on these issues. Following the autumn pause for reflection, in
which little was done at political level, there are calls for a further
pause – this time to digest the latest members – in both France and The
Netherlands. The French have always been sceptical about enlargement.
French voters complained during the referendum they had not been
consulted about the 2004 enlargement. A poll that year found 70
per cent of them thought the EU was unprepared for it, 55 per cent
opposed it altogether (compared to 35 per cent in the then EU15) and
only one in 50 could name all 10 of the new member states. The mood
against Turkey is emphatic, and sceptical about Romania, Bulgaria and
the Balkans. Turkey is seen by most French people as a non-European
Muslim state, which would set disturbing precedents for the entry of
other Mediterranean ones. In The Netherlands, there is a similar mood
Geopolitical arguments about European stability or the need to
engage the Muslim world and the Middle East in dialogue to pre-empt
civilisational clashes do not resonate with such attitudes. But
these arguments remain central to the debate about enlargement and
are intimately bound up with the case for having an EU constitution
to regulate it.
It would be premature to conclude the issue, or the treaty, is dead.