Statement of the working group “Balkans” of ALDA on the perspective of no further enlargment policy of the European union

Strasbourg, 30th October 2014

Taking an official five-year break from enlargement may prove detrimental for the process that has been a “historic success bringing peace and stability to our continent”. Keeping it high on the agenda rather than announcing such a  discouraging  declaration that all the deadlines are over the present Commissioner’s mandate,  would have brought more benefits to both enlargement and accession sides of the medal. There are many more pros to keeping the momentum of strengthening the democratic legitimacy of integration process in the Western Balkan countries, particularly having in mind the need for overcoming the most severe financial and economic crisis since the WW2 and that can be condensed in only three words clearly stated in newly elected Commission President’s statement:  Experience, Solidarity and Future.

Many would agree that the Experience of adding 13 countries in 10 years has brought forward the enlargement policy as one of the biggest success stories of the EU.

The principle of Solidarity was reinforced through “Agenda for Jobs, Growth, Fairness and Democratic Change” whereas concentrating on the areas where the EU is able to make a real difference including inter alia creation of knowledge based society to a large extent encompasses a newly emerging young, qualified and skilled labour market in both EU MS and the acceding countries.

Future enlargement needs to be constructed on consistent efforts aimed to strengthen the confidence in shared values and vision of the European project rather than solely on conditionality or making the breaks in one of the most successful EU policies.

Despite the little prospect for the remaining seven Western Balkan countries to become full members in the next 8-10 years, much is being done in evidence of Experience, Solidarity and Future. The adoption of 2014-2020 Strategy and Work Programme of the Regional Co-operation Council, setting up the rules for chapters based negotiation process and bilateral exchange practice on the lessons learnt in the accession, are perhaps among the biggest steps made in evidence of full commitment to the reform process.

“Freezing” the enlargement in Western Balkans could undermine the EU consolidation and future. This perspective is actually welcome by most of the governments of the region that are now allowed to step back and take their

commitments with some more relaxed deadlines. However, the question remains if this approach is to the benefit of the communities. The winds of ethnically based divisions blowing in most of these countries are getting stronger by the critical economic situation, while the far away hope of membership may lead  to even more  uncertainty in post-conflict societies. The countries in South Eastern Europe will now have to deal with anotherdisillusionment. For Europe, certainly experiencing fatigue, the non-enlargement perspective could even be more damaging, creating space for alternative alliances in the region looking at East and South.

However, some small steps can also make a difference, such as for example, the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding for Europe for Citizens Programme, thus enabling the space for co-operation and dialogue on EU integration related issues among those who will actually carry out the reform process – local/regional authorities and civil society.

The IPA Programmes are in place and operational. But they need to be supported by a political vision, which is offered by the membership perspective.

In support to those very actors who will carry out the reform process on the way to EU integration, ALDA – the European Association for Local Democracy, the Local Democracy Agencies in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the office of ALDA in Skopje, and their European and local partners:

*  Salute the signature of the Memorandum of Understanding with  Serbia and with Montenegro on 27th October 2014,  and call for all other countries  in the Balkans to sign the document providing the framework for further co-operation and dialogue on EU integration related issues

*  Call for stronger commitment from the EU to support the Enlargement process with clear and visible steps, with political engagement. We are firmly convinced that there is no alternative for the future of the communities of Western Balkans to be included in the EU in a short period of time

* Fully support the development of the EU and EC actions, in full cooperation with the governments, local institutions and civil society organizations of South Eastern Europe for strengthening the EU values of respect for human rights and democratic principles.

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