Looking back at Europe’s turmoil from sixty years ago and the crisis the EU is facing today, one can see a lot of resemblances. Stagnating or left behind economies, insecurity, radical changes in leaderships and last, but not least, high migration and the connected social and political discourses against it.
In almost a year from now, the European Union will welcome its 28th member state. That is when all member states’ parliaments will have ratified Croatia’s accession to the EU. Although the turnout in Croatia amounted to little less than half of the population with the right to vote, two thirds of the voters said yes. That meant a relief for both Brussels and the elites in Zagreb as a poll (from before the election, but after the International Criminal Court on former Yugoslavia’s conviction of two Croatian generals for war crimes) showed only 23% of the voters in favor of Croatia becoming part of the EU.
With a Greek exit from the euro-zone seeming increasingly possible and anti-EU sentiment rising across Europe, one cannot stop and wonder how this once ‘elitist’ club will look in twenty years. Turkey has expressed its willingness to become a member since the ‘60s, but somehow the process of closing the higher number of chapters assigned to it is taking more than anyone’s patience can bear. No wonder public opinion in Turkey towards a future accession to the EU is no longer as positive, despite Turkey being a country that has seen an unprecedented economic boom in the region (some would say even the world).
On a positive note and from an opposite geographical location, Iceland is the candidate with the most chances of becoming the 29th member of the EU. Since the economic crisis and the free-falling of its economy, Iceland has become more interested in EU accession than before (that is that now a little less than a third of its voters are in favor of its membership) and was put on a fast-track by the EU, being granted the candidate member state status after only six months into its application.
The developments in the Balkans, the so-called barrel of gunpowder in Europe, show that the region is moving slowly, but definitely toward the EU. Serbia under Tadić has fulfilled probably the number one goal on its external relations agenda when it became a candidate country in early 2012. Nevertheless, the voters have recently shifted their preferences towards the more Russia-inclined candidate Nicolić. Although he was associated in the past with a far-right party and expressed anti EU views, it remains to be seen how he’ll reconcile his foreign affairs agenda with Serbia’s economic and political interests.
As for the other two candidate countries from the Balkans, a decision was adopted on May 22nd about opening accession negotiations with Montenegro this June. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is a bit ahead of its neighbors, as it already opened the second session of the High Level Accession Dialogue (HLAD) at the beginning of May. Although the improvements made by the region in achieving the Copenhagen criteria are undeniable, analysts foresee another 10 years until these three countries will become members with full rights.
When it comes to the potential candidates, Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo, the situation is more uncertain. Although Albanian tourists can travel VISA free in the Schengen area since 2010, it is still a long road for Albania to go from its association status to the candidate one. The same goes for Bosnia and Herzegovina where the entry into force of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU is within reach. A more particular case is that of Kosovo, which is still not recognized by many countries, some of the EU member states included. Despite that, the European Commission launched the dialogue on VISA free travel for Kosovo this January. This will only be possible, however, once the Government of Kosovo has implemented substantial reforms in key areas such as the security of travel documents; border, migration and asylum management; public order and security issues, notably the fight against organized crime and corruption, and fundamental rights issues related to the freedom of movement. This is however just one criterion established in 1993 in Copenhagen as a step towards the fifth enlargement regarding the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.
The future of Europe and European Union is very unclear, and if some optimists talk about an EU of 35 member states in the next twenty years, some argue that it is unfair to use the fulfillment of the very restrictive Copenhagen criteria as a mandatory step to get access into the EU while many of its current members do not fulfill the same criteria. It is true that the sticks and carrots strategy the EU plays on other countries without guaranteeing any future inclusion into the club is not a popular one. However, stricter rules on the mandatory steps candidate countries have to take to be deemed worthy of entry into the EU is perhaps the best way to avoid the emergence of another Greece.