By: Lolita Hasani
With the 2004 enlargement and the 2013 accession of Croatia, the enlargement policy has proved to be one of the most successful EU policies in the Balkans. All Western Balkan countries now have a European perspective, want to join the EU and are part of the enlargement process. Regarding Macedonia, we are a pro-EU nation. Macedonia was the first EU candidate country in the West Balkans, and keeping the country’s reform agenda, as well as reinvigorating the EU accession process since our name dispute with Greece, is a top priority. Today, however, the question of enlargement seems insignificant compared to the many difficulties facing the EU right now, including terrorism and the migration crisis.
Commission President Juncker’s decision after his election to freeze the expansion of the EU over 5 years (until 2019) is a big challenge for candidate countries like Macedonia, but that doesn’t mean Macedonians should be discouraged. On the contrary, we should feel motivated to prove that Macedonia or any other Balkan country’s place is in the EU family. Junker’s message to candidate countries is wrong, because it is better for the EU if the Balkans become member states. On both an economic and security level, Balkan accession is a win-win for the EU.
Unfortunately, today we live in an era of terrorism, and we have witnessed many threats to European countries. One difficulty for candidate countries is that enlargement is no longer a priority on the EU agenda. The latest developments in Syria and on the EU’s Eastern borders show that geo-political challenges still exist. Thus, the issue of EU security has become a major focus, rather than commitments to enlargement. Furthermore, Europe is facing a huge migration crisis, and public support for enlargement is falling throughout the EU, as people are more preoccupied with the aftermath of these challenges.
There are at least two reasons, however, why I strongly believe this is still the right time for enlargement. First, the EU should continue doing what it does best: using the soft power of EU membership to assist with the transformation and prosperity of countries in its neighbourhood. Secondly, considering the risks to EU stability and security, the migrant crisis has proved that the EU without the West Balkans is an unfinished project. For example, if candidate countries like Serbia and Macedonia had been EU member states, they could have had Frontex on their borders to help deal with migrants.
Albert Einstein said, “in the middle of every difficulty lies an opportunity”. It may seem odd that candidate countries still want to join the EU in times of unprecedented crisis, but joining the EU is also an opportunity. Europe has always faced problems, and it will continue to face them in the future, but EU integration would provide opportunities of economic growth, the Schengen Area, and the free movement of goods and people in the Balkans. Most countries that have joined the EU have progressed since integration, and progress in the Balkans is valuable for the EU and its members.
Most importantly, being an EU member state means you are at the table where decisions are made, and it is critical for Macedonians to be there as a decision maker, instead of watching from afar while the decision is taken for us. EU membership perspective is the driving force for stability and prosperity in the Balkans. That is why we need a more powerful, determined, and engaged EU to continue promoting enlargement.
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