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Don’t wait for good ideas for the Balkans, they already exist

Slovenia is seriously preparing for its European Union presidency, which begins on July 1st. At least when it comes to the issue of the Western Balkans, which will be one of the most important points of its six-month presidency. Before hosting the leaders of the region in Brdo near Kranj, President Borut Pahor visited the Balkan capitals and talked with the heads of state, which we have not seen for a long time as a form of preparation for some important meetings.

Regardless of the fact that the Balkan summit in Brdo near Kranj did not bring any major progress both in mutual relations and in the issue of the region’s accession to the European Union, the efforts of Presidents Pahor and Slovenia to try to return the European future of the Balkans to the big table in Brussels are to be respected. Pahor is trying to put the stalled, or rather frozen process of EU enlargement to the Balkans back in the game, and he offers a new recipe for that. How new?

He formulated the main idea at a meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić in Belgrade, where he said that peace and stability in the Western Balkans could be preserved by the relatively rapid entry of all countries in the region into the EU. He will warn EU partners that a new enlargement strategy is needed and that it must have an important geopolitical dimension, i.e., that the entry of the Balkan states into the EU must be understood as a geopolitical business and take place as quickly as possible.

The concept is excellent, rational and provides a chance for a win-win outcome, both for the Western Balkans and for the European Union. The only thing is that it is not new or original, but we will not take that amiss. It is useful, however, to recall the origins of this concept, and especially the vast time span from its emergence to Pahor’s initiative.

The idea with which the Slovenian president today wants to shake up the European Union in order to integrate the Western Balkans as soon as possible, is almost four years old. And all that time, the European Union had it in front of it, not only as an idea, but as a detailed concept. This concept is called Western Balkans IN (WBIN) and its author is the International Security Institute. We published it on October 2, 2017, and only three weeks later (October 27th) we presented it to the embassies of the EU member states in Belgrade, as well as to the US embassy. Shortly afterwards, we sent it to the addresses of the EU member states, as well as to its headquarters, Brussels.

WBIN is a timely, creative response to the completely new situation in which the EU found itself after the decision of Great Britain to withdraw from it and advocates the accession of the Western Balkan countries to the Union as soon as possible. It is a concept by which the EU was supposed to provide an integrative response to the disintegrative nightmare in which it found itself and from which it has been recovering with a lot of trouble for years.

The concept of our institute was intended to encourage the European Union to use its political will more decisively than before and launch another wave of enlargement, this time to the Balkans, and thus permanently pacify and stabilize this area, otherwise the only remaining non-integrated area. We have offered a concept of enlargement that would not release the Balkan states from the obligation to reform from within, but they would do so with much more effort and zeal, because in this way they would have a certain European reality, not just a “European perspective” which they have been hearing about since 2003.

Unfortunately, until Pahor’s current initiative, the concept in the WBIN document did not encourage any EU action. The exception is that some solutions from our document were incorporated into the Strategy for the Western Balkans, which was adopted by the European Commission in February 2018.

In all the past years, the EU was sitting idly, grieving over the Western Balkans, repeating that it is worried/upset/disappointed, that it warns/points out/draws attention to the growing/malignant/destructive/anti-European influence of Russia/China/Turkey/Arab countries in the Western Balkans. Choose any combination of offered terms, put it in the search engine and you are guaranteed to get some of the reports or announcements about the Balkans from the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU, the Foreign Affairs Council from the previous four years.

You will not see this lament in the WBIN of the International Security Institute. Its basic idea was that neither the EU nor the Balkans would be in a position for someone else to interfere in their relationship. And that is exactly what has been happening in recent years. The main reason is wasted time in which both repeat that they are tired – the first from enlargement, the second from accession. Of course, it didn’t have to happen that way. It was enough for Brussels to start thinking about the Balkans a little more creatively than they had been thinking for 15 years before and without success. Just as the International Security Institute offered them on a plate.

These days, Borut Pahor, with his initiative, confirms the full vitality and freshness of the WBIN project. With a delay of almost four years, but for a good idea, that should not be a problem. It has been in the seats of the EU institutions and in the governments of the member states since the first day, and if it is lost somewhere, it is still on our website –

The Western Balkans and the EU have no reason to waste another four years.

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