EU under pressure from Serbia, for a change

The Financial Times says that European diplomats were “speechless” when they received a proposal from the Slovenians to write in the declaration from the EU-Western Balkans Summit the deadline by which the entire Western Balkans should join the Union, that is, by 2030. They did not explain whether this speechlessness was due to the specific year in question or the very idea of setting a deadline by which the Balkan Odyssey, called EU accession, should be completed.

We are sure that it is the latter. We can easily imagine one of the “speechless” ambassadors asking his also “speechless” colleague from another country at lunch – “Where did they get the audacity to suggest something like that?”. For many in Brussels, this was certainly a bold proposal, bold enough to “leave speechless”. It is bold because it goes out of the routine and asks to disregard the sanctuary of European decision-making, and that is the procedure, some long-established rules and, in the end, the influence of bureaucracy on political decisions.

The Slovenian proposal did not pass, neither in the writing of the draft resolution in Brussels, nor a few days later on Brdo near Kranj, when European leaders and presidents and prime ministers from the Western Balkans met. Aleksandar Vučić also confirmed the day before that the date would not be in the final document, but he did not make a tragedy about it. What the Slovenians tried today is just an echo of Vučić’s much earlier demands of the same content. Four years ago, he asked Federica Mogherini, the then head of European diplomacy, to set a deadline, to determine the exact date of Serbia’s entry into the EU: “Let’s not feel like some geese in the fog, who know that one day they will reach the goal, but they don’t know exactly which way and when”.

Even then, some were “speechless” because of Vučić’s request to time Serbia’s entry into the EU, but then, like now, no one has given a convincing answer as to why this should not be done. Angela Merkel only said that she “does not believe” in setting a date for joining the EU, but that she believes in fulfilling the promises and fulfilling the conditions for admission. Clearly, no one expects Serbia and others in the Balkan countries to be admitted one day in the future, and until then to sit idly by and look at the calendar. But why would the time frame exclude the obligation of candidate countries to meet the conditions? There is no reason.

Some Europeans do not want a time frame to be included in the grand plan for the accession of the Western Balkans to the European Union, because they are not sure that they can fulfill such an obligation. It is one thing to say that the Balkans will enter the EU, that the door is open to it, that it has a secure European future, everything that has been heard for the last 18 years. And it is completely different when a time frame is added to all these phrases, even if it is in nine years. Someone in the EU simply does not want (yet) to be under such pressure. In the past years, that pressure was exerted only by Vučić, and since the summit on Brdo near Kranj, Slovenia, as the EU presidency, has been putting pressure on the deadline for the Balkan entry into the EU. And it is not alone here, because according to the Financial Times, the Austrian Chancellor Kurz joined the pressure, and there are certainly more.

Vučić did not reveal to us which three EU countries were explicitly against taking on the obligation of time-limiting the entry of Serbia and the Western Balkans into the EU, but we can assume that these are some influential governments of the European West. And it is understandable, these are countries in which the mood for the admission of new members has drastically decreased since Brexit, so that this topic does not bring votes in the elections. That is why it was not realistic to mention a particular year now in European decisions, but it is of great importance that this matter has reached the leaders of the EU in general and that it is being talked about. For the Financial Times, that was an important topic, it was also for Deutsche Welle, which reports from Slovenia that the EU is offering the Balkans accession, but “there is still no time frame”. But there will be, better sooner than later.

There will be time frame because it is very difficult to ignore such a request from the leader of one country and the de facto leader of the group of Balkan candidates (Vučić), because there is no stronger guarantee that the job will be completed than such a request. Why would someone ask for a deadline if they are not convinced enough that they can meet it? Why would he put himself and his country under such pressure, if he does not have enough self-confidence and faith in his own strength? And on the other hand, why doesn’t someone want to accept such an offer, which is more than fair?

The European Union has a long history of circumventing its hard rules for membership in the club. And whenever it did, it did a good thing. Not going far back, it is enough to remind that Bulgaria and Romania learned that they would become members of the Union only three months before that happened. They were left speechless when they were told that, just like those diplomats from the beginning of the story when they heard the Slovenian proposal. But that only shows how much stronger the political decision is than all the written procedures and the bureaucrats who live from that procedure.

Neither Vučić, nor the Slovenians, Austrians and others who follow his “challenge” to Europe to set a date for entry, are asking the EU to set a precedent, because it has already done such things. Vučić is only asking them to “tighten the noose”, to show the leadership and vision they are proud of and to stand up for what they have been advocating for 18 years. If a man from the Balkans tells them that he is ready to accept the obligation and respect the deadline, what greater guarantee they need for the job to be done? They are not used to receiving such challenges from Serbia, but they will have to get used to them and respond to them.