"Resistance to enlargement" is growing in the EU, while in Macedonia there is a growing number of citizens who feel that the EU - instead of creating fair conditions for new enlargement - is moving away from the candidates to join the European family. How do we proceed?
The accession of new member states to the European Union is increasingly being stalled and blocked: "enlargement fatigue" also translates to "resistance to enlargement". Euroscepticism and fatigue are growing in Macedonia, due to the unfulfilled promises on the part of Brussels, and also growing is the resistance of Macedonians to accept the principle of "good neighborly relations", which - instead of establishing harmonious cooperation and state relations with mutual respect - come down to denying Macedonian identity and language and obstructing the commencement of pre-accession negotiations for EU accession.
France is most vocal in their ‘Non” to EU enlargement
France, one of EU's "locomotives", is continuously expressing disagreement with the Union's enlargement. This is reflected in the key findings of a new study on the attitudes of French public opinion, recently published on the independent pan-European media network "Euractiv". The report notes that more than one in two French citizens oppose EU enlargement concerning the Western Balkans region. "About 59% of French citizens do not see a possibility of the Western Balkan countries joining the EU." A year and a half before this poll of French public opinion, at the summit of EU leaders, French President Macron, while blocking the opening of negotiations with Macedonia and Albania said: "We must reform the Union before we can enlarge it... Without denying the possibility of enlarging the EU, the nature of its enlargement must first be changed to make it more democratic."
However, the reasons for opposition to the EU enlargement process go deeper and are more complex. Professor of International Relations and European Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Spyros Economides, points out in his paper "From Fatigue to Resistance - EU Enlargement and the Western Balkans" that "resistance to enlargement" is observed in the EU. "In the recent past, the narrative of prospective EU enlargement has been dominated by 'enlargement fatigue'... 'Opposition to enlargement' is no longer based solely on the term 'absorption capacity': internal fragmentation and disintegration, and the inability of the candidate states to meet the demands of the accession process are exerting a powerful influence."
"Resistance to enlargement" undermines the credibility of EU promises
"Enlargement fatigue is a symptom of weakening European values" - this is the title of the research study, in which Vanja Miadineo, Dario Cepo and Valentino Petrovic, researchers from the Croatian Center for Democracy and Law "Miko Tripalo" point out that with its flippant approach to the Western Balkans in view of enlargement, the EU calls into question the fundamental values on which it is built: "... the rejection to formally open negotiations with Albania and N. Macedonia on EU membership... sent a signal to aspiring candidate countries and the rest of the world that the EU is neither reliable nor serious about the enlargement process."
Ulrich Sedelmeier, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, writes in his article "Enlargement: Increasing Membership, Transforming ‘Wannabe Members’?" considers Macron's veto of opening accession negotiations with Macedonia and Albania was aimed only at blocking enlargement with candidate countries. However, Sedelmeier points out that the candidates themselves show "low democracy and insufficient state capacity and ability of their governments to adopt and implement policies effectively", pointing to two more points, which refer especially to Macedonia: "...political conditions of the EU have touched on highly sensitive issues of statehood and national identity... 'Enlargement fatigue' undermines EU' s credibility on the promise of membership."
These are the latest conditions and trends in the field of EU enlargement, and Macedonia has been in that waiting-room since 2005, waiting in vain for its European dreams to come true. Macedonia needs to introduce drastically different tones in its national European integration policy, taking into account the "fatigue" and already the "resistance to further enlargement" in the European Union. In doing so, one should especially keep in mind Macron’s veto, the mood in Denmark and the Netherlands – countries that supported the French president - but also the mood of Macedonians and other citizens of Macedonia for EU integration.
"Good neighborly relations" that arrogantly deny Macedonian language and nation
The "Prespa Agreement" and the "Good Neighbor Agreement" with Bulgaria are primarily aimed at identity demands and concessions from the Macedonian people, related to its language, culture and history, in exchange for the agreement to pave the way for Macedonia's European integration. They only strengthened the Eurosceptic mood among Macedonians, but also among some of the other citizens in Macedonia. The original statehood of the Macedonian people and its ethnic, cultural and linguistic identity are treated in a way that provokes negative reactions not only in Macedonia, but also by political experts, analysts and prominent public figures in the international community. It is no coincidence that Sedelmeier emphasizes the "high sensitivity to issues of statehood and national identity."
The European Policy Institute in Skopje analyzed the Bulgarian conditions for the start of Macedonia's negotiations with the EU and published an analysis in which it presents views on the negotiating framework and the start of negotiations. Regarding the content of the "Explanatory Memorandum" from September of last year, which Bulgaria submitted to the EU members, the Institute states: "...the existence of the Macedonian nation and language is brazenly and directly denied, acceptance of the Bulgarian interpretation of Macedonian history is demanded, as well as the renunciation of the existence of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. Bulgaria's intention to turn the accession process into 'reverse ethnic and linguistic engineering', and changing of Macedonian national identity is clearly expressed..."
The issue of enlargement is also addressed by Erwan Fouéré., former EU Ambassador to Macedonia. In an article for the Brussels-based Research Center for European Affairs (CEPS), he accused the EU of pursuing an enlargement agenda "that is an enlargement policy in name only", adding: "The Bulgarian government has made an announcement... stating the conditions it insists for N. Macedonia to meet before the accession negotiations start... N. Macedonia to accept that its language has Bulgarian roots and that "Macedonian language" or ethnicity did not exist before 1944. It also demands the renunciation of any allegations of 'existence of a Macedonian minority' in Bulgaria."
According to Fouere, the issue of minorities has become more acute for Bulgaria, "due to the repeated rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which recognize the existence of Macedonian minority groups on its territory."
"EU is not an arbiter of history, language, or identity"
In an attempt to unblock the Bulgarian veto, in mid-December last year, the Council of Europe adopted draft-conclusions to open negotiations with Macedonia. With them, the EU Council reminded of the Prespa Agreement between N. Macedonia and Greece, as well as the Treaty of Friendship, Good-neighbourliness, and Cooperation between N. Macedonia and Bulgaria and stressed the importance of their application. These "Draft-Conclusions" established that "these two steps should effectively put an end to all claims based on a misinterpretation of history."
Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček and the Foreign Minister of the Slovak Republic Ivan Korčok stated in their text "The EU should not be a judge of historical issues", pointing out that they did not support the draft conclusion of the Council for enlargement, because "they were forced to act to act in order to prevent the enlargement from being dragged into historical issues and the EU into a role of an arbiter." "The EU is not here to determine who is right or wrong about issues of history, language or identity. We need a straightforward and foreseeable enlargement process that is based on measurable criteria, clear commitments and political will" - the two ministers said in their article.
Criticism of the enlargement process is also expressed by Michael Martens in his analysis "Stop the EU Enlargement: What to do with the Balkans?". According to him, the enlargement process is "full of political pitfalls, which have little to do with the reform efforts of the candidate countries": "The enlargement of the European Union is over for now. ...For ... Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, N. Macedonia and Serbia, the message is clear: the old principle of engaged reforms at one point leading to EU membership no longer applies.
According to him, "no one has experienced this more clearly than N. Macedonia, which even changed the name of the country at the request of Greece, so that it can start negotiations with the EU." Martens underscores: "The Greek veto was followed by the French and even the Bulgarian veto, this time because of the allegedly stolen history and language of Slavic Macedonians."
Danger of new blockades
The EU is showing "fatigue" in terms of further enlargement, but Macedonia has also grown "tired" in the 16 years due to the unfulfilled promises of Brussels to open negotiations. The "resistance to enlargement" is growing in the EU, and in Macedonia there are more and more citizens who get the feeling that the EU - instead of creating fair conditions for new enlargements - is moving away from the candidates for joining the European family, in an attempt to first create its own new internal architecture.
Also, Macedonia's good neighborly agreements with Greece and Bulgaria could mark the end of any further European integration efforts of Macedonia, if any request of the two neighboring countries on identity issues, history, language and more is not met. A rise in such demands should be expected in the future, so the non-acceptance of those demands could be the basis for new vetoes and new European blockades of Macedonia. It turns out that Macedonia has no response to such vetoes and Euro-blockades, and it is unknown how they can be resolved while preserving the dignity and identity of the Macedonian people.
As soon as it turns out that the European integration for Macedonia, at least for the time being, is only "a Sisyphean rolling of the boulder towards the EU goal", then the question of ‘What’s next?’ becomes relevant. A new governing political set, which would emerge from potential new early parliamentary elections, would be expected to propose, on behalf of Macedonia, new concepts of true good neighborly relations with Bulgaria and Greece, between the Macedonian people with the Bulgarian and Greek people. But not at all such "good neighborly relations" as those on which both agreements are based.
New concepts of true good neighborly relations are needed
Hamza Karcic, a professor at the Faculty of Political Science at the Sarajevo University, points to what "good neighborly relations" have come down to in European integration: "The obstructionist policies pursued by the new EU members towards their neighbors have undermined the idea of 'overflowing' Europeanization... The approach of 'block your neighbor now, while you still can' exposes the false promise of the 'overflow' effect of regional Europeanization and the increasingly unjust treatment of the rest of the Balkan countries. New EU Member States are using their club membership to get concessions from their neighbors."
The question arises (from Macedonia's point of view) how much the EU adheres to its "Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union/2012/C 326/02), according to which “the Union contributes to the preservation and development of common values, while respecting diversity of the cultures and traditions of the peoples of Europe, as well as the national identities of the Member States..." and "The Union shall respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity"?
Also, how much and whether the Macedonians are ready to really sacrifice their Macedonian national self-identification in exchange for EU integration, especially since they already realize that the European dream is far from reality? The answers to these questions will have to be incorporated in a new reformed national European policy of Macedonia.
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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute of Communication Studies or the donor.