In a week’s time the European Commission will publish its strategy on the Western Balkans.
This is a bold new step of the EU, which has ignited both hope and angst in almost all countries of this region which are aspiring to join the EU.
The year 2018 is shaping up to be the year of EU Western Balkan relations.
Apart from the adoption of a Western Balkans Strategy, the Bulgarian EU presidency has made the Western Balkans one of its priorities.
We are hopeful, as all of us coming from this region with varying but generally high degrees of aspiration towards the EU want to see the next step on our European paths and we are ready to put in the work.
However, we are anxious at the same time, as it is crucial that we all feature equally prominently in the strategy and that we are all given the same perspective. Any talk of ‘frontrunners’ inevitably makes the rest ‘leftovers’.
We know that the stronger the EU perspective, the more acceptance we will find domestically to push necessary but unpopular political, economic and social reforms. If the European Commission would see a strong push for reforms across the region, it needs to provide a strong, but joint EU perspective for the Western Balkans.
So far, the Western Balkans Six have been treated as one region. All of us have stabilisation and association agreements with the EU in force; and all include quite comprehensive free trade agreements.
Some are candidate countries, while others are potential candidates, but all were given an equal chance in Thessaloniki in 2003.
First summit since Thessaloniki in 2003
The Bulgarian presidency has taken it upon themselves to organise the first Western Balkans summit featuring all 28 member states since Thessaloniki, 15 years ago.
It is crucial that both the Commission strategy and the Sofia summit provide the same accession perspective to all six Western Balkan countries. Just as the 2004 enlargement was symbolic in bringing in the former communist Central and Eastern European states in one block, so will the EU’s enlargement through the membership of all countries of the Western Balkans.
Countries that were bitter enemies less than 20 years ago would leave our problems in the past.
The aim has to be not to import any complicated political issues into the union when we join. The only realistic way to do this is to have all six countries join at the same time, in one block.
Efforts are already made to integrate the region before joining the EU, in order to prepare the six economies for the added pressures of becoming one of 33 members.
As we see in the work on the regional economic area, structural and political obstacles to further integration are widespread and quite serious.
A joint EU perspective where our fates are tied to each other, is the only effective way in which we can solve our issues and truly embrace the concept of good neighbourly relations. The EU must learn from past mistakes and not allow one state to accede only to have it block the potential for future accessions of its political adversary.
The EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia should enter its final phase and there is no other possible outcome than for Serbia to recognise Kosovo’s independence.
Serbia vs Kosovo
Understandably, concessions will have to be made by both countries in order to achieve a historical agreement for peace and reconciliation between the two.
At the same time, it is unthinkable to continue with the status quo where five EU member states do not recognise our independence because Serbia will not face realities on the ground and let go of the past.
Kosovo will not be able to join the EU if relations with Serbia are not settled now. The EU has so far made wise decisions by including normalisation of relations with Kosovo as a separate condition for Serbia’s EU accession.
Kosovo is fully committed to the implementation in good faith of all the agreements reached so far, including the agreement on the Association of Serb majority municipalities in accordance with the ruling of the Constitutional Court of Kosovo.
Our Serbian counterparts must implement agreements reached on energy and the recognition of diplomas, and to stop their proactive efforts to block Kosovo’s membership in international organisations such as UNESCO and INTERPOL.
In order to ensure stability, peace and political and economic development of the Western Balkan countries, the EU needs to provide not only a clear European perspective for the Western Balkans, but an equal one.
This strategy has to be political and not merely a technical document.
It can easily help all of the six countries overcome serious bilateral issues if an equal and clear prospective for membership in the EU is offered to all, conversely it can only add more tensions in the region if some of the countries are advanced while others are left behind. /euobserver
Author: Bekim Collaku – Is former minister of European Integration of Kosovo and currently is the Chief of staff of the President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi