it seems that 2019 will be our year. Hold on, don’t celebrate just yet. 2019 will be our year, but not because everything will go as smoothly, but because everything will depend on us most. This is, for the most part, bad news.
The second half of 2018, as Florian Bieber concluded, was very awakening after the euphoria that swept the region in the first half of the year that is now behind us. After the initial flight with the Prespa Agreement, opening the talks between Belgrade and Pristina and generous messages for political and substantive support for the region’s Euro-Atlantic integration, 2018 looked like a year in which the Balkans, after years of standing still, will suddenly make a quantum leap forward and solve several until recently big problems and that, mostly with the political criteria, will catch the EU train on the “fast track”.
However, consistent with their karma, all countries in the region successfully blocked positive processes in the second half of 2018. The Belgrade-Pristina talks do not give out hope that there will soon be a comprehensive solution, on the contrary, the escalation of rhetoric and moves on both sides are more resembling a backward movement, a sharpened and worsening relationship than a lasting solution. The EU Member States themselves, mostly France and the Netherlands, have shown that Euro-enlargement is at the back of their agenda, even expressing doubts whether it should continue with this pace. The fact that European elections are nearing has made other countries more cautious with support for this process. In Macedonia, the ratification of the Prespa agreement is not entirely safe, and the process in which it is carried leaves a permanently bitter taste, full of unpleasant and anti-European compromises, and leaves little room for euphoria, especially the blackmailing with which this political compromise is directly contrary to the European values and reforms necessary for the start of negotiations next year.
In addition, “dragged” on the positive political signals, I think that next year we will be disappointed with the “passivity” of the European Commission, which will wait for the resolution of the EU elections. All in all, I think that in 2019 the wind in the back that we had so far will be gone, and that deficiency we will have to reimburse with our own forces. That’s the thought that should frighten us.
Firstly, the elections in in the EU are up in May, 2019. The next composition of the European Parliament will almost certainly be more nationalistic and more populistic than the current one, although it is possible that the changes to the right are smaller than expected, largely because of the mistakes learned through the choice of Donald Trump and Brexit. But despite these trends, the composition of the new parliament, due to the right parties and the surge of extreme right movements, will surely be far more reserved and more skeptical about enlargement. Such tectonic internal changes can bring very serious changes in this field, even to the point that there is no commissioner for enlargement in the next Commission, or, for instance, the commissioner to be someone coming from Hungary. I do not know which of these options would be worse for us.
Secondly, even if we remain the same, the proactive support we have enjoyed so far in this process will disappear as the political upheaval continues in the EU, and an increasing share of the burden will fall on us. We will need, with internal powers, not only to justify the trust and positive signals from the current Commission, but to be so active that our “successes” will overcome the emerging Euroscepticism. I seriously have a dilemma whether we ourselves, without so many positive messages and active support from the international community, will manage to maintain this level of progress, let alone achieve a better pace.
In the end, success in obtaining a date for negotiations for Macedonia in 2019 will depend on two key factors: (1) our internal ability to move the political process and the reform process forward; and (2) the political will of member states to actively work on enlargement. These two factors are linked – if there is a high political will, even the average able countries “pass”, and vice versa, if there is no political will, the country should make some miraculous progress that will compensate for the lack of political will in the EU. We are in this second situation. The whole work and effort invested in the achievement and ratification of the Prespa Agreement may not be sufficient to get a start date for the 2019 accession talks. NATO membership looks safe, but it will be a small reward if we end up disappointed in the second EU process.
Macedonia has gone through such catharsis in Bucharest in 2008. We came to the threshold of a breakthrough and it did not happen. The speed with which the local political scene has then plunged into profound nationalism, populism and general decadence was daunting. I hope that we will keep this knowledge close at heart this time too, while making the ultimate efforts to have a good report on our progress, and that in the same way, those who decide on our negotiation date in a few months will have the same knowledge.
Until then, we are on our own. Historically, it has always been a recipe for disaster for us.
Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik