Two Approaches from Balkans towards Europe

Countries in Western Balkans have all some European Perspective.  Slovenia is already in, Croatia is hoping to conclude its EU membership talks by the end of 2009, Macedonia has candidate status, membership applications from Montenegro, Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina are in cue, Serbia (with or without Kosovo or part of that) has the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) but not yet into force.  For me it is interesting to see two different approach – or aspects from Balkans towards Europe namely a political one and the technical one.

SAA agreement and implementation of integration program related to that are a huge administrative challenge including all sectors of society politics and law, which after implementation should be compatible with EU.  With this technical process maybe more important for EU membership is political trends and challenges both inside EU as well related to states of Western Balkans.


The European Commission is set to give Croatia next month a conditional date for concluding EU membership talks by the end of 2009 despite French pressure against any new commitment on enlargement, EU sources say.  They said the French EU presidency had lobbied Brussels strongly against giving Zagreb even an indicative timetable after Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso made the pledge earlier this year to Prime Minister Ivo Sanader. (Reuters in National Post, Tue 21st Oct.2008)

Croatia hopes to actually join the European Union in 2010. But France and Germany insist there can be no further expansions of the 27-nation bloc until all member states ratify a reform treaty designed to strengthen its creaking institutions. According unnamed EU sources the EU Enlargement Commissioner Rehn the Commission will not give Macedonia, which has EU candidate status, green light to start accession talks next year and is also seeking to delay membership applications from Montenegro, Albania and Bosnia in hopes that Serbia, seen as central to Balkan stability, will arrest a key war crimes suspect and join its neighbours on the EU track.

Some EU officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they had misgivings about fast-tracking Croatia.  They argue that Zagreb faces on a lesser scale the same problems of corruption, organised crime and a weak justice system as Bulgaria, which many EU countries think was admitted prematurely in 2007.  If this were purely about how well Croatia is doing, it would take another two or three years,” the senior source said. “Sanader still doesn’t get it,” another EU source said. “He still thinks that a diplomatic offensive will achieve it without having to do all the painful reforms.” (Reuters in National Post, Tue 21st Oct.2008)


Serbia’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) was signed April 2008. Parallel to the SAA negotiations Serbia started its National Strategy for the whole process of European integration with goal to reach membership status by 2012. If/when Serbia gets status of an EU membership candidate the mentioned National Programme (NPI) is coming one of the key documents of the government for future. It serves as reform guide, base of Government’s annual work plans etc. but most of all well prepared and detailed information on planned reforms not for European Commission/EU but for the Serbian society.  (Both documents – SAA and NPI – can be found from Document library right).

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn says that 2009 will be the year of the Balkans, even if the Lisbon Treaty blockage impedes further EU enlargement.  If Hague Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz gives a positive report on Serbia’s cooperation with the Tribunal, the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) may come into force, and it would be realistic to work towards Serbia obtaining candidate status before the end of 2009, Rehn said. (B92, 21st Oct.2008)

EU has encouraged Serbia to start implementing its obligations from the Interim Trade Agreement – a part of the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), so as to “with practical and concrete measures speed up the progress on Serbia’s European path”. However, the government in Belgrade has earlier announced its readiness to “unilaterally implement” the provisions of these deals.  Although the Council of Ministers has still to unblock the Interim Trade Agreement with Serbia, the government has decided to begin applying – unilaterally implement – it from January 1st 2009.

Benchmarking – Best Practice

Technically EU candidate can conclude accession talks when/if it meets several technical standards.  They include all social aspects and actions like e.g. judicial reform, stronger action against corruption and organised crime, and reform of big compensated factories in line with EU state aid rules.
This technical approach I would describe as “benchmarking” in which organizations evaluate various aspects of their processes in relation to sc. “Best Practice” within their own sector. This then allows organizations to develop plans on how to make improvements usually with the aim of increasing some aspect of performance. Benchmarking may be a one-off event, but is often treated as a continuous process in which organizations continually seek to challenge their practices.

What makes the situation however political is, that term “Best Practice” is often a misused. It is frequently used to support politically correct ideals which, in reality take no account of individual need or circumstances. In this sense the ensuing practice is far from ‘best’ when the resulting effects are contrary to the real ideal situation. It is also used to prevent challenges to rules and systems that are, in reality, not best practice.

Technical vs. political Approach

Today it seems that Croatia has counted on previous good will of Catholic Germany, Austria and Italy who were backing its independence already early days 90s without having to do “those painful reforms”.  Serbia’s approach has been almost the opposite.  There has been minimal amount of good will in EU towards Serbia even technically the country maybe has been better prepared for EU than e.g. Bulgaria.  And as said Serbia is starting to implement Trade Agreement even unilaterally.

Which approach is better?  I would claim that in bottom line all is about politics.  It was political question to accept Bulgaria to EU with loose standards. It can be political question not to accept Serbia to EU on some excuse or other (Hague cooperation, border dispute, Kosovo etc.) despite how well they implement SAA. It can be also political question not to take Croatia to EU if all enlargement will be frozen due the economical reasons, the lack of money or creating a third way for EU wannabies (like new models to integrate Turkey).

Before mentioned Serbia’s National Programme is one of the key documents of the government for future. It serves as reform guide, base of Government’s annual work plans etc. but most of all well prepared and detailed information on planned reforms for EU.  From my point of view the key question is that Serbia should use this document for the Serbian society, not because of possible EU membership but even without that status, to improve living conditions of Serbs in or outside EU.

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