Thursday, May 23, 2024

THE BALKAN HOPE FOR QUICK MEMBERSHIP IS STRONGER THAN THE CRISIS OF THE EUROPEAN IDEA

The positive and optimistic messages that are expected to come out of this Summit will try to keep the European idea alive at a time when the integration of North Macedonia and the countries of the Western Balkans in the EU still seems distant.

Author: Xhelal Neziri

Today is May 9 – Europe Day. This day marks the beginning of the construction of the European Union (EU) with the adoption of the Schuman Declaration. This document was presented by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman on May 9, 1950. It proposed the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community, whose members would pool coal and steel production. This European Community had as founding members France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. The Community was the first of a series of supranational European institutions that would eventually become today’s “European Union”. This moment happened at a time when the nations of Europe were still struggling to overcome the devastation caused by the Second World War, which had ended only 5 years earlier, in 1945.

Last year, a full 72 years later, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, re-actualized the idea of ​​the Committee at a time when we have a functional EU, but tired of enlargement. After the idea of ​​changing the methodology of EU membership negotiations, proposed in 2019 and approved a year later, Macron proposed the Committee with the aim of unifying Europe until enlargement takes place.

Macron somewhat unexpectedly revealed the idea of ​​creating the European Political Community (EPC) since the other countries had no other details. In his speech on May 9, 2022 at the Strasbourg Conference, Macron gave only part of his vision of what this great European union should look like.

He said that the European Union within the scope of ambitions and the current level of integration cannot be the only way that can structure Europe. Macron mentioned the countries of the Western Balkans, which have joined the integration process, but it is not known when they will be full members of the EU. According to him, the EU needs, in this geopolitical context, to find a way to see Europe unified and stable, without making intimacy within the EU more fragile. Macron emphasized that EU leaders have a historic duty now to open a historic process of reflection, taking into account the events taking place on the European continent.

In this speech, the French president emphasized that the European family of common values ​​was abandoned by Russia. It was precisely France that for a long time saw Russia as a future member of the EU. This has been emphasized several times by the former French president, François Mitterrand, who at the beginning of the 90s saw the European Union (EU) as a federation of national states, where Russia would also be integrated.

However, three decades later, Macron announces the break with Russia and the political restructuring of Europe. According to him, the European Political Community would be a new European organization that would enable European democratic nations, which share common values, to find a new space of cooperation.

This speech, however, did not answer all the questions and dilemmas that exist within the EU and within the aspirant countries. Within the EU, it has been thought for some time how to change the decision-making process in order to create the so-called “two-speed Union”. This idea, which was first presented by the former German chancellor Angela Merkel, was embraced in a way by the current chancellor Olaf Scholz. To leave France, Germany prefers a Union of an entire continent, where decisions would be made by majority vote, and not by consensus, as it is now. This idea, which Sholz elaborated towards the end of August 2022 in Prague, was not liked by many member states of Central Europe. Their dilemmas stemmed from the fear that such a change in the decision-making system within the EU would produce discrimination for the economically weaker countries, due to their inability to lobby in making certain decisions.

Unlike Scholz’s proposal, Macron’s idea for the KPE aims to unify Europe, without pushing forward EU enlargement. The same concern is here – the equal importance of states’ votes and their power to block certain EU strategic decisions. At the same time, there is the same urgency – the unification and compaction of Europe in a period of danger from the malicious Russian and Chinese influences in order to preserve the common system of values.

The refugee crisis, the coronavirus pandemic and, more recently, the Russian aggression in Ukraine, have made the idea of ​​a broad European umbrella necessary, if the EU wants to become more protected from the developments taking place on its borders.

Macron’s vision received a positive response first from Germany, and then from other countries of the European Union. The first conference of the format of this Community, which counts 44 countries, 17 more than the European Union currently has, was held in October 2022, just five months after the first promotion at the Strasbourg conference. The heads of Turkey, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Western Balkans called this a good idea, which accelerates full membership in the EU. Even the United Kingdom, which left the EU in 2016, now sees the European Political Community as an idea worth considering.

Can the European Political Community fill the geopolitical void left behind by the decade-long stagnation of the Western Balkans integration?

This idea is, in fact, as old as the European Union itself. It was proposed in 1952 as a union of the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Defense Community. It was envisioned as a confederation of European states. Two years later, in 1954, France did not approve the treaty for the formation of the European Defense Community, which led to the abandonment of the European Political Community project. 70 years later, it is again France that revives the idea, but in a different format.

The first meeting in Prague of the KPE leaders did not bring any important decision, except for the optimism of the participating countries that they will be in solidarity among themselves. In addition to the security risk, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has also affected the economies of European countries.

A year after the promotion of the idea of ​​KPE, things have not moved so quickly in the direction of the integration of Europe as a whole. The next Summit of the Community will be held in Chisinau, Moldova, a country which made the democratic transition much later than other post-communist countries. The positive and optimistic messages that are expected to come out of this Summit will try to keep the European idea alive at a time when the integration of North Macedonia and the countries of the Western Balkans in the EU still seems distant. 

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