July 14, 2014
Guest blogpost by Shenoll Muharremi, Executive Director at the Development Group LLC, Prishtina. He is an expert on EU membership processes and economic development.
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Open letter to EC President Designate Jean Claude Juncker
Why EU Enlargement matters
There have been discussions if the next European Commission should keep position of the Enlargement Commissioner, outcome of which could send wrong signals all over the region. In addition, during European Parliament elections there were statements on the way forward with the enlargement policy including EC President Designate Juncker statement who said “The EU needs to take a break from enlargement and concentrate on fortifying the Union we have”.
Before elaborating on potential best scenarios for both EU and Candidate and Potential states, it is worth, also in light of the 10th Anniversary of the fifth historic enlargement of 2004, to put the record right by stating the contribution that this key and one of the most successful EU policy brought to peace, stability and prosperity of Europe.
As a matter of principle, there is broad consensus that EU needs to keep being proactive on extending peace, stability and prosperity on all of its corners. In this context, Europe would not be whole, free and safe without Western Balkans countries part of both EU and NATO. 100th Anniversary of the WWI can best help us understand why. Therefore, working towards transformation of the Western Balkans and its accession in the EU is of paramount importance and clearly a geo political and strategic matter for Europe, especially in the aftermath and taking on board lessons from the Ukraine crisis.
EU Enlargement policy benefits go beyond political and strategic nature. As well known, enlargement contributed towards more prosperity, improved quality of lives and safer and more influential Europe in the World. Moreover, it has transformed EU into a 504m internal market and also contributed to generating economic growth, new sustainable jobs and increase foreign direct investments. For example, Germany’s exports doubled as a result of the recent enlargements, while United Kingdom’s grew by 50% with similar trends in other member states. Poland, on the other hand, from the perspective of a new member showed best how implementation EU criteria, reforms and accession standards helped the country to positively transform their economy and standards of living. One of the ways to illustrate the impact could be by comparing economic indicators of Poland versus e.g. Ukraine who was not part of the enlargement policy yet at the similar state of affairs after the fall of the Communism. When they started transition journey in 1990 Poland had GDP per Capita of $1626 while Ukraine approximately $400. Poland has reached $21,118 in 2013 (IMF) compared to Ukraine $3,900 (WB). The difference generated by enlargement reforms and accession is unprecedented and significant as figures suggest.
Considering above mentioned statements and presented facts, EU leaders and institutions should not lack inspiration and vision but put the enlargement policy at the centre of the objectives and programme for the next European Commission. Of course, progress on this agenda is merit based and depends on the implementation of criteria and conditionality by those aspiring to join. Western Balkans countries certainly need to accelerate the pace of reforms and deliver on EU conditionality.
When it comes to if next European Commission should have a specific Enlargement Commissioner or not it really depends on preferences of the President. If he decides to install Commissioner for this agenda then it will help his day to day business. But if not, he will have to personally deal with the enlargement policy and this does not mean would have negative effect as enlargement would be dealt at the most top EU level instead from just one of the Commissioners. Based on the previous enlargement experience and workload of the President of the EC, the best way forward would be to continue with the Enlargement Commissioner even thought there should be several reforms made in order to address new challenges and specifics of the Western Balkans region.
Enlargement and Neighbourhood policies should be separated and not tackled by a single Commissioner. Both agendas are very demanding and potential new issues such as the Ukraine issue could affect the work of the Commissioner and consume most of his/her time. Neighbourhood policy could more effectively address and handled by the High Representative of the Union for the Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also due to the nature and importance of the situation. This change would release new energies and allow Enlargement Commissioner to meet demanding task of reforming and making Western Balkans ready to join the EU.
IPA Financial allocations approach and methodology aimed to support transformation of the region should be reformed to meet the needs. It is absurd that countries that enjoy economic status and performance similar of the stronger economies of the EU benefit greatest part of the IPA funds. Therefore, impact and support on EU reforms would not reach its effects if we continue with current policy in which countries that have to go thought the same workload have such a significant disparities in receiving support from EU. Example, countries with more needs and limited recourses at disposal such as Montenegro receives annually €35m or Kosovo €71m compared to example Turkey who receives €903m but is not that much in need of the financial support due to good economic state and potentials. This needs to be addressed and balanced as a matter of urgency. Formulas for IPA allocations need to be more comprehensive taking into account needs of the country and their potential to finance EU related reforms.
EU instruments and best practices such as youth employment initiative and other relevant facilities should be extended for enlargement countries. For example, Greece, Spain, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia have similar challenges with fighting youth unemployment. Programmes designed for Greece and Spain could work out well for countries of the region. This will also improve the profile of the EU in the region. There are other dozen instruments from other policies that could be extended to enlargement. Hence, we aim towards developing a more enhanced, comprehensive Enlargement policy instead of tools we still use from decades ago.
Finally, when it comes to the Enlargement Commissioner profile, it could be wise to consider candidates either from EU members familiar with the region or those members that have been and are strong supporters of the EU enlargement. If available, Neven Mimica from Croatia could be good example of the relevant profile or choice. He has hands on supported EU accession processes of Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo and understands both policy and the region very well. Also, candidates from member states such as example Germany who have been strong supporters and benefited from the EU Enlargement could perhaps accelerate the pace and generate a new momentum to bring Western Balkans closer to EU and advance and complete the project of Europe whole, safe and prosper. Future of the Western Balkans is in the EU and NATO but it is the job of the EU leaders and institutions and statesman of the region to realise this promise sooner rather than later.
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Mr. Muharremi is Executive Director at the Development Group LLC, Prishtina. He is former head of the National Agency for European Integration and has served in various high-level positions as a senior expert and adviser for international organizations and governments. He graduated from Sussex University in the U.K. and American University in Bulgaria. Twitter: @ShenollMBlogactiv Team