Bilateral bickering blocks EU enlargement, again

Tisdag, 28. April 2009     0 kommentti(a)

The official set of conditions for states wanting to become members of the European Union is grandiose. There are the requirements for democracy, human rights, rule of law, respect of minorities as well as the need to have a functioning market economy and public authorities worthy of the title. Prospective members naturally also need to revise national legislation and adapt administrative structures implementing it. And then there’s the other set of conditions that varies according to the candidate country and to the whimsies of the EU member states. Some member states have come to use the accession negotiations as a tool to blackmail their neighbours and/or foes on various disputed issues.

The case of Cyprus blocking Turkey’s accession to the EU on the basis of Turkish presence in the northern part of Cyprus is familiar to all. Then there’s the case of Greece vetoing the accession of its neighbouring Macedonia, forgive me, of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, on the basis of that country’s name. The most recent chapter in this story of accession talks in neighbourly spirit is the Slovenian veto over Croatia’s membership negotiations, the next round of which was officially postponed last week until further notice.

The row between Slovenia and Croatia concerns the border between the two countries in the small bay of Piran located on the Adriatic coast. The exact position of the border determines whether Slovenia has direct access to the high seas or not. Admittedly the question can be of great relevance to Slovenia, a country with only 46 km coast line, in comparison to neighbouring Croatia’s 1700 km. If Slovenia has been criticised for holding Croatia’s membership negotiations hostage through this unresolved dispute, others place the blame on the intransigence of Croatia.

In any case, all this sets a very dangerous precedent. Can member states really be allowed to block the accession of new states over any possible bilateral quarrels? The question is especially relevant for Balkan countries, where borders drawn after the fall of Yugoslavia are in many cases challenged. Should the EU prepare itself to face more negotiations blocked by bilateral issues in the eventual case of accession talks with the other Balkan countries?

Enlargement has been hailed as one the EU’s most important policy tools and defining for its relevance. If this success story is to continue, member states need to recognize the importance of leaving aside disputes that are irrelevant to the accession negotiations process. If the EU wants to be a leader in equality, rule of law and transparency, it needs to live up to those criteria itself in relation to candidate states.

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