The EU should offer more than just a box of chocolates

Speeding-up the integration of the Western Balkans into the EU will require the creation of new momentum through greater financial investment and the deployment of individuals with significant political and diplomatic clout.

By Maja Šarkanović-Volk

We all know that any relationship is built upon the values of trust, loyalty and negotiation. For the past several years, the European Union (EU) has tried to seduce the Western Balkans to join its polyamory. The current state of affairs in the Western Balkans, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is in large part due to the EU’s ineffectual courtship. The EU has failed to apply the basic principles of any relationship – staying involved with each other and communicating. The relationship has entered the phase where they need to talk about something important and the understanding is no longer there.

So what to do now and how to repair the relationship?

While the EU is no longer in denial and has recognized that this particular relationship is in trouble, one must have a game plan to get the relationship out of a rut. I am not sure what the current strategy is, apart from calling summits, which has been in vogue for the last couple of years. But just as when restoring any relationship, it is important to let go of certain things and to inject a new attitude.

First, the EU could send a considerable number of matchmakers into the region – for instance, ex-EU prime ministers or ex-commissioners, with an unquestionable past performance – to help facilitate the resolution of some difficult bilateral and other problems.

Second, the EU should invest more. Presenting the region with a box of chocolates – such as lifting the visa requirements for the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina – could provide enough motivation to vote for candidates that will lead the country towards European and Euro-Atlantic structures. While the offer is definitely enticing, it may not be enough and thus end up only providing a temporary sugar rush. In order to avoid a crash, the EU should offer more.

Stanislav Daskalov, the former Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, suggests that the EU could discuss the idea of increasing pre-accession funds to the Western Balkans countries given the new financial challenges faced, since experience shows that increased pre-accession money will result in more investments in the region’s outdated infrastructure.

Last but not least, trying to introduce a diplomatic Casanova or Don Juan to the region – meaning appointing a Special Envoy – could create new momentum. This idea has been increasingly receiving broader support and, if it comes to fruition, this individual will have to be a charming, skillful Balkan virtuoso capable of luring the ill-advised into the bedroom.

At the end of the day, relationships are an investment. The more you put in, the more you get out. Relationships take work, commitment, and a willingness to adapt and change through life as a team. The key is openness, goodwill and intensive communication.

Maja Šarkanović-Volk is an independent consultant to the US Government on media relations and Balkan affairs.

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