European Affairs

Letter to the Editor: The Balkans, Too, Hope for EU Membership     Print

Slovenia and Hungary part of united Europe within a few years? Romania and Bulgaria on track to follow shortly thereafter?

The European Union's bold move to consider inclusion of the battered Balkans could prove the cure for the plague of bitter wars and ethnic strife. It has already sparked hope that stability, even prosperity, will make its way across the continent in the new millennium.

But Brussels, and Eastern capitals, could easily squander this opportunity. Leaders are painfully aware that economic integration through open borders is a sacrifice. By accepting more competition from goods, services, and labor added to the EU market, current EU members will have to put their own products and workers at risk. And in order to qualify for membership, EU hopefuls must make economic and political reforms that demand painful concessions.

It may be easy to rationalize protracted negotiations based on political concerns, but the pace of integration is critical. If it is maddeningly slow, the Balkans will sink into steeper economic decline, fragile democracies will shatter, and intolerant orthodoxies will rule.

It is every leader's job to create the public will for enlargement, and to resist those who favor protectionism. The prudent go-slow approach may be a guise to delay and diffuse. No one can afford the wait.

Witness Balkan youth, the biggest part of the region's perilous brain drain. They are desperate over their own prospects, and leaving their countries in droves. Some return home replete with stronger skills and deeper pockets, but too many opt to stay on the "outside," where life has more lustre.

The blue banner of the EU will not, and should not, supplant the flags proudly flown by Balkan neighbors. But being part of a broader group whose common good depends on cooperation is now an obsession in Eastern and Central European circles.

Macedonians speak of little more than integration into Europe. Kosovars, who talk incessantly of sovereignty, expect EU status, too. Even Serbia's residents view partnership with Europe as a way to secure their future.

Change will come with the very real promise of something better. And with that change, Europe will be a safer place.

Amy Kaslow
Washington, DC

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number I, Issue number I in the Winter of 2000.