Belgrade, October 26, 2016.
Brexit, the refugee influx, the rise of extreme political parties, and terrorism threats are only a few issues that have made the EU seem more vulnerable than ever. In cooperation with BEUM Association (Belgrade European Union Model), CEP organized a series of panel discussions titled Europe in Crisis: Thinking Forward, on October 26th, 2016. The event gathered prominent international and national experts and nearly 400 young graduates from across the world. The first panel examined the ongoing turbulent times in the EU, while the second panel addressed the possibilities for reinvention of the EU enlargement policy. The event gave a chance to the students to ask sharp questions to the panel experts and have their say on the issues discussed.
Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to Serbia Dagmar Repčeková emphasised that Brexit was a signal to member states to think of the EU’s future, and they started to do so with the informal European Council meeting in Bratislava. “We now need to think about the future of integration and disintegration of the union,” she told the audience. The problem is that some member states are calling for more integration, but there are also those states (usually outside from Eurogroup) asking for more nationalism. Also, the language spoken in member states is often different from the one spoken in Brussels. What Slovakia wants is more Europe but not necessarily more Brussels. Talking about Serbia and the enlargement policy, Ambassador Repčeková notd that a country with 70% of EU GDP average is not an equal partner, and argued that Serbia should take some time to become equal. She believes that even in five years’ period, EU will not be ready for new enlargement and that it should concentrate on issues such as the impact of the refugee crisis.
The Head of the Negotiating Team for the Accession of the Republic of Serbia to the EU, Tanja Miščević,when talking about current EU crises, told the panel that the EU should remind itself why it exists, and the clear answer is: for building peace and economic development. Brexit is a great opportunity for the EU to think more about future enlargements, and talk more with Western Balkan countries about their future in the Union, she argued. Miščević believes that Serbia should be part of the EU and that EU integration can have positive transformative effects as has happened in the cases of Polandand Slovakia.
World Bank Country Manager for Serbia Tony Verheijen noticed that nationalism in Europe has unfortunately become something to be proud of, not afraid of. He wondered how the EU evolved from a set of principles to the situation where member states count how much they put in and how much they get out from it. He believes that Western Balkan countries can even give example to the EU on how cooperation is possible in hard circumstances – giving the example of a recent meeting between Serbian and Albanian Prime Ministers. When discussing the future shape of the EU, Mr. Verheijen claimed that one should make an analysis of the cost of non-Europe in political terms.
Bruegel Secretary General Matt Dann argued that even before the financial crisis there were signs that certain aspects of EU integration are problematic. He thinks that there is no “one size fits all” integration and that both integration inside Europe and outside Europe is challenging right now. Finally, he argues that the EU is a political project, and efforts to save it must be political as well.
At the second panel, Srđan Majstorović, Deputy Director of the Serbian EU Integration Office, claimed that Brexit is a great opportunity for the reinvention of EU enlargement policy. Western Balkan countries are a constitutive part of the EU because all security issues and challenges the EU is facing have something in common with this region. According to him, as long Europe is not fully integrated, the common interest of peace and prosperity cannot be achieved, and the WB can be contributors to the EU’s common goals, values, and interests. Serbia has shown that it can be an important contributor during the “refugee crisis.” Also, Serbia already contributes to trans-European transport structures. In security, energy and development sectors we can achieve the win-win situation for both the EU and the Western Balkans and goals in these sectors need to be pursued commonly, he stated.
Igor Bandović, Senior Programme Manager at the European Fund for the Balkans, reminded attendees that the last joint regional initiative related to EU integrations was the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Thessaloniki in 2003. He believes that we need more genuine initiatives such as this one, and argues that opening the chapters 23 and24 for all countries in the region can create positive competition among them. As a conclusion, Bandović urged for greater connection between enlargement policy and economic development and education.
European Policy Centre Senior Analyst Corina Stratulat noticed that the combination of anxieties in the EU has dampened the appetite for enlargement in EU member states. She thinks that ex-ante demands of meeting conditions for accession have gone hand in hand with the more assertive role of member states. At the same time, slowed enlargement process, coupled with perceived fewer benefits of EU integration, brings frustration among citizens in WB countries. When there is an interest from the EU in Balkan enlargement, unfortunately, it tends to prioritise stability and security issues. It overlooks lessons learned in the past - that building democracy is the key to ensuring progress and stability. What she finds worrying is that the signs of state captureand authoritarian regimes in the WB are maturing even with the EU’s support.
Senada Šelo Šabić, Research Associate at the Institute for Development and International Relations, said that migration is the topic that shapes the EU policies today, but also that it feeds populism across the continent. She urged both EU member states and candidate countries to cooperate because geographical proximity forces cooperation and finding solutions.