Enlargement : Obstacles Abound on Balkans' Road to Eu

Article excerpt

The Balkan countries have their place in the EU, but they will need to be (very) patient. Meeting on 28-29 March in Hluboka nad Vltavou (south Bohemian region of the Czech Republic), the EU's foreign affairs ministers certainly reiterated the "European perspective" of the Western Balkans (Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and Bosnia). But the integration process, which is already very slow, is not going to speed up over the coming years.

RATIFICATION OF LISBON TREATY

Czech President Vaclav Klaus - who is believed by many to hold the key to the Senate vote on the Lisbon Treaty - has been warned. Without ratification, there can be no enlargement, of which Prague is a defender. "There will be no enlargement if there is no Lisbon Treaty. Everyone know this, it is a prerequisite," underlined French Minister Bernard Kouchner. This condition is clear to most supporters of enlargement. "Obviously, if the treaty does not enter into force at a given time, this will make it a little more difficult to find a solution to enlargement", acknowledged Finnish Minister Alexander Stubb.

POLITICAL CLIMATE

In several of the old' member states, "enlargement is a word that the public no longer wants to hear," acknowledged Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg. These countries do not want enlargement to be a central issue of the European elections. Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium have also refused, until now, to hand over the dossier for Montenegro's application to the European Commission, a step which they consider to be "political". "We must not give the impression that enlargement is obvious. Commissioner Rehn talks of the instability of the Balkans but does not think of the instability in our countries and of the swing in public opinion," explained a diplomat. Nevertheless, a solution is taking shape to hand over the Montenegro dossier in April or May, in return for a guarantee that the Commission will not be in too much of a hurry to examine the dossier.

Another concern is the German elections, scheduled for this autumn. …