Why is Macron skeptical about playing Ode to Joy for the Balkans?

Why is Macron skeptical about playing Ode to Joy for the Balkans?

The EU Commission adopted in February 2018 a strategy under the title of “A credible enlargement perspective for an enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans.” The strategy considers the enlargement policy “as part and parcel of the larger strategy to strengthen the EU by 2025.”

The European Union for years has been trying to transform the Balkan region ontologically, starting with its name. Per these efforts, the Balkan region was divided into sub regions. According to this misconceived division Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Greece are not part of the Balkans anymore, as they are members of the EU. On the other hand, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, and Macedonia comprise the so-called “Western Balkans” sub-region. Turkey, by its lonesome self, makes up the “Eastern Balkans” region.

It could be said that the EU’s journey for enlargement in the Balkans has travelled from misnomer to misdesign. While explaining the respective European paths of the “Western Balkan” countries, the above mentioned strategy describes Montenegro and Serbia as “the current front-runners in the process.” Albania and (in their biased terminology) “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” are labelled as countries “making significant progress on their European path,” for which “the Commission is ready to prepare recommendations to open accession negotiations.” As to Bosnia-Herzegovina, the strategy declares that the “Commission will start preparing an Opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership application.” As for Kosovo, the strategy refers to normalization agreement with Serbia and ambiguously states that Kosovo “has an opportunity for sustainable progress through implementation of the Stabilization and Association Agreement.”

The High Representative/Vice-President of the Commission Federica Mogherini, together with Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, recently presented the annual Enlargement Package in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, stating the adoption of seven individual reports and assessing the implementation of the European Union’s enlargement policy. They declared the Commission’s recommendation that the Council opens accession negotiations with “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and Albania. Additionally, they said the European Commission is also working towards an opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s application, while cooperation with the Kosovo authorities persists on the basis of the Stabilization and Association Agreement.

Mogherini and Hahn also stressed the EU’s intention to continue with the facilitation of dialogue on normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, including on the achievement of a legally binding agreement. They described this decision as “a step forward today for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania, as well as for the entire Western Balkans region.”

However, coinciding with this announcement French President Emmanuel Macron in a speech to the European Parliament on April 17 ruled out any expansion of the European Union until the Union is reformed. “I don’t want a Balkans that turns toward Turkey or Russia. But I don’t want a Europe that, functioning with difficulty at 28 and tomorrow as 27 members, would decide that we can continue to gallop off to tomorrow be 30 or 32 members with the same rules,” Macron reportedly said. He added that he “will only support an enlargement when there is first a deepening and a reform of our Europe.”

It is quite remarkable that French president’s basic objective for the Balkans is not bringing peace, security, prosperity and stability to the region. His only concern is to exclude certain countries like Turkey, which is historically not only a part of the Balkans but has deep-rooted, centuries-old relations with the region. The Encyclopedia Britannica states that even “the word Balkan is Turkish and means mountain.”

Time will show us whether the EU, with the rivalry mentality of French President Macron, will succeed in finding ways not to get stuck in a cul-de-sac in the Balkans.

* Teoman Ertuğrul Tulun is an analyst at the Center for Eurasian Studies (AVİM)

France, EU, European Union, Macron, Emmanuel Macron, foreign policy, Balkans, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, opinion