More Europe in the Southeast is the answer?

Whilst imploring aspiring members to embrace its own system and values, the EU’s selective implementation of standards – depending on the case and context – means that countries of the region, particularly the Republic of Macedonia, should be cautious about accession.

By Jana Lozanoska

The assertion – ‘more Europe in the Southeast is the answer’ – is indeed philosophical, and in that regard I will attempt to discuss it from both a philosophical dimension, and with respect to current legal and political developments. This assertion has two aspects which, however, are not mutually exclusive. First, the question to be posed is whether Europe should come to the Southeast or the Southeast should come to Europe?

Obviously, the Balkans – which is reluctantly avoided in official discourse because it fosters negative connotations – is located geographically in Europe, even though it is somewhat smaller than the term ‘Southeast’ actually denotes.  But the initial question is – should this region and, in particular, the Republic of Macedonia, come closer to Europe in terms of its values and system?

From the outset, there should be a mutual agreement about whether the Balkan identity should be so easily dismissed? Should it be buried, forgotten and deleted from our collective and individual memories, in order not to trigger any negativity whatsoever? This is a question on which one should reflect upon. Personally, I am not for such an automatic dismissal, even though this term triggers very painful memories.

Why not?  Because the Balkan identity has its positive sides, mostly by the fact that it is various, original and specific. The negative connotations should be used as a tool to learn from the past and improve the future.

On the other hand, what is the meaning of the term – Western Balkans? It is, in my view, something artificially put forward in previous years by the ‘superior Europe’.  What I want to draw attention to is the overall approach of the so-called superior European identity, which is still in the process of being constructed and institutionalized in terms of what is now known as the European Union.

This obsession with uniformity and the control of developments – both in the broader Europe and the EU – is formally reinstated with the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty and some of the solutions included therein which are relevant to human rights.  This includes the accession of the EU as an organization, as such, to the European Convention of Human Right, whilst obviously not making any significant changes in terms of their institutions and system.

Indeed, the postulates of market liberalism and the enjoyment of rights and democracy are ones to which our respective societies should strive; however, is the European system so perfect? Here the liberalism of the market does not automatically refer to the common market policy which is at the core of the EU. These two are not always necessarily the same. Common market principles exclude at some point the liberalism of the market, and vice versa. On the other hand, the focus on human rights was not the main aim of the initial European Communities; instead, this was done along the way and under the influence of the European Court of Human Rights.

However, to simplify this analysis, my answer is no. No, the EU system is not perfect. To believe in perfection – particularly when comes to institutional setting and its functioning – is, at the same time, both idealistic and utopian. The operation of the EU system, in many instances, proved to be ineffective and often overburdened with bureaucracy. To name just a few – divergence on the enlargement process; problems related to the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty because of the political leverage left to the Members States; handling of the financial crisis and differences concerning foreign policy, such as the recent crisis in Middle East and North Africa.

This claim should also be examined with respect to the Republic of Macedonia and one of the most perplexing questions ever – the so-called ‘name issue’.  Starting from 1991, the request for recognition by the then EC was followed with a policy that was not beneficial for the Republic of Macedonia. Notably, several decisions were adopted upon Greece’s insistence which virtually showed the creativity of the policy makers in the EC/EU. Those decisions contained a similar intention and that was, ‘the term Macedonia shouldn’t be included in the overall name of the country’, even though the Badinter Commission, in its opinion 6, concluded that the name of the state cannot imply territorial pretensions.

After 14 years – in 2005, more precisely – the Republic of Macedonia became an EU candidate country. Work commenced to adjust its national system with the acquis communataire, and two years in a row the Commission proposed the start of accession talks (the latest Progress Report reaffirms this position). However, the Council of the EU, in its decisions, avoids confirming such a stance. It remains to be seen how it will respond on the third recommendation, although one does not expect any significant changes in that regard.

The wording is appalling, particularly for one who follows this issue. It reads, ‘maintaining good neighbourly relations, including a negotiated and mutually acceptable solution on the name issue (…) remains essential’.

This rigid conclusion by the Council of the EU is ill-founded. First, they do not have a mandate for this since the mandate is within the UN. Second, the name issue is not part of the Copenhagen criteria for membership of the EU. Third, a ‘mutually acceptable solution to the name’ has nothing to do with good-neighbourly relations; analysis of the content of this principle proves that. On the contrary, a ‘mutually acceptable solution’ violates the principle of good neighborly relations, especially the elements such as non-interference in the domestic matters of states, the principle of sovereign equality and self-determination.

Furthermore, on several occasions, EU officials claimed – and tried to interfere with columns in daily newspapers – that the European way of handling differences is through dialogue and that the process initiated at the Hague is ‘not [a] tradition among the European partners’. This is a voluntary conclusion by some EU officials, since resort to the Hague – as the principal organ of UN – is the most democratic tool for the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Therefore, one of the most pertinent question to be posed is should the Republic of Macedonia, and the broader region, come closer to the system and values of the EU? The lack of values – or selective implementation depending on the country and context – can be seen, for instance, in the European Commission’s formulation of its Progress Reports on the Republic of Macedonia. The EC constantly excludes the adjective Macedonian.. This was also the case with the latest decision adopted by the European Parliament on the Progress of the Republic of Macedonia, despite its positive wording in terms of accession negotiations.

Pursuant to this and the overall practice, I am not quite clear as to what constitutes European values? The EU is an institutional and political setting where the value system has not yet gained a lot of significance or, if it has been acquired, is selectively exercised. This institutional system does indeed have its positive sides, however, the region and Republic of Macedonia should not become completely subsumed by something which – particularly in terms of values – is not still defined, and for which the political considerations of certain member states outweighs all others.

Jana Lozanoska, LL.M, is a freelance consultant and former Director of the Center for Democracy and Security in Euro-Balkan Institute.

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