|Author (Person)||Vogel, Toby|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.11, No.22, 9.6.05|
Although the rejection of the EU constitution by the French and Dutch voters is unlikely to affect the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Union, it is bad news for the Balkan countries, writes Toby Vogel
It is unlikely that this changed mood will significantly affect Bulgaria and Romania, which both signed accession treaties earlier this year. Their entry is scheduled for 1 January 2007, although a safeguard clause provides the possibility of delaying accession by a year should either country fail to comply with its commitments. These were the first accession treaties to contain such a clause.
But politically, it will be much more difficult for Bulgaria and Romania to slip in now. The likely change of government in Germany after a general election this autumn will put the two aspirant countries on edge; the conservative Christian Democratic Union firmly opposes Turkish membership and has also made noises against Bulgaria and Romania.
Romania's Prime Minister, Calin Popescu Tariceanu, said that the result of the French referendum did not have any legal implications but that the integration process would become more difficult and that additional obligations might be asked from the two candidates.
Romanians are considerably less enthusiastic about the EU than they were just a short while ago. A recent poll put the number of those who view the EU favourably at below 50%; a different poll last Autumn had found that 74% trusted the EU.
In a move seen as reflecting the changed mood within the EU, Olli Rehn, the commissioner responsible for enlargement, announced after the French and Dutch referenda that Romania and Bulgaria would receive formal warnings that they were lagging behind in implementing reform, notably in the judicial field. He said the EU would continue its enlargement course "by underlining the need to stick to the criteria of accession to the last letter and better communicating to our citizens the overall balance sheet of enlargement".
He acknowledged that "enlargement blues", as he called it, had played its role in the rejection of the constitution by a European public that is increasingly sceptical as to the benefits of taking in new countries.
This will be bad news for the Western Balkans, whose leaders put a brave face on the situation.
"Croatia is on its way to Europe and Croatia is moving forward," Croatia's President Stipe Mesic told his countrymen. "A united Europe has no alternative. Just as there is no alternative to our place in a united Europe."
His feelings were shared by his Macedonian counterpart Branko Crvenkovski.
If last year's enlargement from 15 to 25 member states seemed to dampen enthusiasm for taking in yet another batch of formerly Communist countries - not to mention Turkey - the rejection of the EU constitution by French and Dutch voters last week may have put such plans on hold.
After a meeting with Mesic on 1 June in Zagreb, Crvenkovski told reporters: "France's rejection of the European constitution must not stop reforms in our countries and the fulfilment of standards. We must do those things that are up to us."
Croatia is closest to starting accession negotiations with the EU. The only substantial issue holding up the opening of talks is the failure of the Croatian authorities to arrest General Ante Gotovina, who is wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), but who is regarded as a hero by many Croats for his role in retaking Serb-held territories at the end of the 1991-95 war.
In an unprecedented move, EU foreign ministers decided in March to postpone the beginning of accession talks with Croatia owing to the government's failure to co-operate fully with the ICTY.
While Croatian ministers tried to play down the possible negative effects of the French and Dutch referenda, Neven Mimica, the chairman of the foreign policy committee of the Croatian parliament, said on 31 May that the country was now "farther away from the EU than two days ago".
"The EU will now focus on internal problems, not on enlargement. It is clear now how harmful it was that we failed to start accession negotiations on time. Had we succeeded in doing that, our position would have been easier now," Mimica told the Zagreb daily Vecernji list.
The Split daily Slobodna Dalmacija reported unnamed Brussels insiders as saying that Croatia may become "collateral damage" in the likely scenario of a rejection of Turkey by some of the EU core members. "It will be politically and practically impossible to reject Turkey and open the door to Croatia, especially if the ICTY co-operation condition is not fulfilled," the paper wrote.
Western pressure for the arrest of indicted war criminals in the Balkans - the list is topped by Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic, believed to be in Serbia - may sound less convincing without the carrot of eventual accession, though it is not just the war-crimes issue that worries reformers.
President Boris Tadic of Serbia confirmed that many unresolved questions would become even more difficult to tackle if the prospects of accession diminished. "All outstanding issues in our region would be much more difficult to resolve if the EU membership perspective is cancelled," he was quoted by the Financial Times as saying - possibly an allusion to the undecided status of the province of Kosovo, which is formally part of Serbia and Montenegro but has been under UN administration since 1999.
Talks on its final status are to begin later this year and could result in some form of "conditional independence", in which an international supervisor would have final authority for a transitional period. The EU would have to play a key role in any such arrangement.
But the position of pro-integration reformers could also be undermined on issues of domestic reform. One mitigating factor is the solid political majorities in the countries of the region for closer ties to Brussels, which are seen as the only way out of poverty and stagnation.
In Bosnia, however, such pro-EU feelings have not translated into the political will to filfil EU conditions in order to conclude a stabilisation and association agreement. Just before the French and Dutch referenda, the country's Serb-dominated half rejected one of the conditions, the creation of a unified police force. There is now a real danger that association, let alone accession, may have been thrown back not by any anti-enlargement feelings inside the EU but by the inability of the country's leadership to agree on a realistic course.
Prime Minister Adnan Terzic claimed the country had met all conditions and that the EU was "changing the rules of the game". Such statements are unlikely to meet with much sympathy now that the EU will primarily be busy with itself.
Vladimir Gligorov of the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies told Belgrade news agency BETA that the French and the Dutch rejected the whole current concept of the EU, not just the constitution, and that other countries shared that attitude. "The whole issue of enlargement will now be opened. It is difficult to say whether that would lead to later accession dates for these countries. But it is certain that the criteria for candidacy and membership will be tightened."
The current uncertainty and the changed mood will not just affect the domestic politics of countries seeking membership - it also has implications for international relations, which reflect back on the Balkans.
Writing in the New York Times on 5 June, columnist Roger Cohen summed up the challenge the US government is likely to encounter when working with the EU on key issues that will dominate the remainder of the year.
Cohen said: "Just at the moment when the administration had been hoping to reap the fruits of its concerted push to improve ties with the EU - in the form of critical assistance in Iran and on the final-status talks set to begin on Kosovo - it confronts a continent consumed with its own affairs."
But enlargement is not off the table. The mood of a fickle public could swing back; Western leaders might recognise that the integration of a traditionally troublesome area into wider European structures is not an option, but a necessity; and the countries of the Balkans may yet speed up reform.
Enlargement Commissioner Rehn told reporters in Brussels: "Rumors of the death of EU enlargement policy are evidently exaggerated".
"I have not yet registered as unemployed nor closed the shop," he added.
Major analysis feature in which the author suggests that although the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty by the French and Dutch voters was unlikely to affect the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Union, it was bad news for the Balkan countries, since it may put plans for their eventual EU membership on hold.
|Subject Categories||Politics and International Relations|
|Countries / Regions||Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Europe, North Macedonia, Serbia, Southeastern Europe|