AA / Istanbul / Abdelwahab Ayoubi ***
The annual European Union-Western Balkans Summit, held last Wednesday in the town of Brdo in Slovenia, was marked by dinner and family photos as well as the usual smiles and routine usual, without taking any decision or making progress on the enlargement of the Union.
The former president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, had written that “Europe is like the bicycle, if it does not move forward, it falls”.
If we look at the EU today, we will be inclined to compare it to a bicycle, the wheels of which have been removed to replace the tires, but no one cares to fix it.
This metaphor illustrates the situation at the informal EU – Western Balkans summit in Slovenia.
The light was shed during this summit on the blatant dissension between the European Commission, led by the German Ursula von der Leyen, who frankly supported the enlargement of the Union, and the European Council, headed by by the Belgian Charles Michel, who expressed equally frank reservations about this enlargement.
Michel made it clear that “it is no secret that the 27 member states do not have the same position regarding the ability of the European Bloc to accept new members.
For his part, Von der Leyen supported the accession of new members, “not at this time but rather by 2030”, as suggested by Slovenia, “when all conditions are met”.
Indeed, the EU does not have only positive experiences concerning its enlargement towards the east, as happened with Romania and Bulgaria, or with the Visegrad Group, better known also as the Group. V 4, which includes four countries (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic).
The Visegrad Group Countries is an informal alliance within the EU that opposes Western-style liberal democracy and supports the fight for a Christian Europe. It also opposes the supposed decadence of the West, immigration, cultural diversity and several other topics.
To put things in perspective, it should be noted that the number of inhabitants of the six countries of the Western Balkans (Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina) is lower to 18 million with an area equivalent to that of North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany).
Likewise, the GDP of the Western Balkan countries is equivalent to that of Slovakia.
The hesitations of the EU notwithstanding, the countries of the Western Balkans have disputes, like what is happening between Serbia and Kosovo, alongside the proliferation of organized crime and corruption in several areas of the country. region.
In addition, apprehensions are growing within the EU with regard to some of these countries. For example, Spain refuses to recognize Kosovo insofar as Madrid establishes a direct link between the situation in this Balkan country and that of the Catalan and Basque populations.
Bulgaria is also mired in a linguistic dispute with North Macedonia, which had to change its previous name (Macedonia) in view of Greece’s increased susceptibility, and this before this country could start talks to join. The union.
For their part, the Netherlands are skeptical about the presence on their soil of members of the Albanian Mafia, which currently controls drug trafficking in this Balkan country.
Germany, for its part, expressed its “embarrassment” towards asylum seekers or those who enter its territory as visitors without leaving it. Likewise, France considers that the Balkan region hinders the “strategic autonomy” desired by Europe.
The EU continues, on the one hand, to adopt procrastination practices against the countries mentioned, while submitting, on the other hand, a list of demands and demands relating to democracy and supremacy. of the law and the fight against corruption.
In reality, the EU aims, in the first place, to calm and reassure the political class in this region, while maintaining it in power, while this political class no longer seems to wish to be led by the Union, especially more that China does not want to offer unconditional political finance.
Indeed, China is investing billions of dollars in the Western Balkans, in particular, in Serbia, the largest country in the region, which has a population of seven million. Beijing is working to leave its cultural imprint through Confucius Institutes, Cultural Centers and its media, while strengthening cooperation and exchange programs with private universities in the region.
For its part, the EU does not have the political will to prevent the countries of the Western Balkans from getting bogged down economically, and possibly politically, towards China’s sphere of influence.
This is what repeats the French President, Emmanuel Macron, who considers “strategic autonomy” part of Gaullian traditions, as being an option to remain equidistant from China and the United States, especially since this This configuration gives France a better position, as it is the only nuclear power in the EU.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for her part, is working to achieve more realistic goals, avoiding losing the German vehicle market in China.
The credibility of the EU, as a partner in the region, is being tested, and will have strategic consequences for the region and the Union, which will result in a vacancy which could easily be filled by China and Russia.
Russia is exploiting the mistakes of the EU, which has adopted a policy aimed at rallying and gaining buy-in from corrupt political elites in the Western Balkan countries. Through glaring errors, in particular in the field of vaccination in the European Union, Russia has succeeded in establishing itself as an influential player in times of crisis.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić is Putin’s main ally in the region, as he uses his good relationship with him not only to bring doses of the vaccine back to Serbia but also to distribute the vaccine to tourists from neighboring countries, which has given the Russian vaccine Sputnik a geostrategic importance.
Instead of confronting China and Russia, the EU countries are each working on their own to achieve their own short-term foreign and security policy objectives.
On September 28, France and Greece announced the establishment of a strategic defense alliance in Paris. Let us recall that the two countries are not only members of the EU, and required, under the Treaty of Lisbon to support each other in the event of an armed attack launched against one of them, but also members of NATO, to like Turkey, whose new alliance is directed against it, and which is still a candidate to join the EU, like other Balkan countries.
As long as the countries of the EU continue to activate against each other in this way, we cannot achieve “strategic autonomy”, and neither the Conferences at the top nor the decisions will succeed in changing that.
In the meantime, the bicycle will continue to be without tires and no eventual repairs are in sight.
* Translated from Arabic by Hatem Kattou
** The opinions expressed in this analysis are those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial line of the Anadolu Agency.
*** Abdelwahab Ayoubi, researcher, head of the Balkans department at TRT WORLD
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