Macedonia and the EU: Plunging Headlong Into the Past

Macedonia and the EU: Plunging Headlong into the Past (Macedonian version included)

Publication date:
Dr. Eran Fraenkel, Consultant on Media and Programming for Social Change. CIDOB Collaborator

Notes internacionals CIDOB, núm. 95

>> Macedonian version

Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and of SFR Yugoslavia in 1989, the European Union was in the unprecedented position of having to decide whether it would expand to include countries that had been part of the Warsaw Pact – such as Poland or Estonia – or that had been part of the “other” Europe – such as the ex-Yugoslav successor states and Albania. Over the ensuing decades, the Union has admitted most of these countries, but has also made it increasingly clear that countries which have not yet been granted accession are in for a long wait and may be excluded indefinitely, it not permanently.

There are six countries in Southeastern Europe (Macedonia, Bosnia, Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo) that have been labeled the “Western Balkans,” which actually is a euphemism for “Unqualified for EU Membership.” The specific rationale for denying admission to the EU differs from country to country. Despite any variations, however, the underlying objections are the same: countries of the Western Balkans are “not ready” yet for EU membership; it is “too early” to let them in; the “cost” of having these countries as members would outweigh any benefits that might derive from their accession.

This hesitation appears to have been exacerbated by the admission of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, and to the slow pace of economic and political change taking place in these two countries since their accession. Furthermore, whereas reluctance to admit new countries to the EU was largely limited to political elites prior to the previous enlargement, there is now more vocal and widespread popular objection to expansion, as manifest in various anti-immigrant movements and support for increasingly conservative governments in some capital cities of “Old Europe.”

These trends have had a net negative impact on the Balkans. In Macedonia specifically, continuing exclusion from the European Union has had, and will continue to have the opposite effect than what Eurocrats are intending: namely, rather than providing incentives for Skopje to meet whichever accession standards have been defined and agreed to, unrequited relations with the EU have become the engine of increasingly regressive political, social and economic trends. The longer it takes Brussels to grasp the cause-and-effect relationship between its accession policy and realities in Macedonia, the more likely it is that the EU will have to face the consequences of having created one (and most probably more) “black holes” in Europe, lacking rule of law, representative and participatory politics, free-market economies, and freedom of expression.

Macedonia may not yet be a failed state – though an increasing number of Macedonians from all its communities describe it that way – but it is certainly a flailing state. Rather than steadily forging its way into a common European future, the Macedonian government is plunging the country headlong into an ever more distorted, mythical, and divisive past. And the more Skopje invests in inventing this allegedly glorious ancient past, the less invested it becomes either in dealing with its precarious and real present or preparing for any possible future.