French and Dutch voters refused to approve the EU Constitution. Many in the Western Balkans interpreted this as causing a serious slowdown in the process of negotiations of these countries into the EU (Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania). Since a large portion of the vote seems to be caused by a negative attitude towards last enlargement and a fear of the future enlargement, one could conclude that countries of the Western Balkans are indeed not in a favorable position.
What lesson did the Western Balkan politicians draw from this result it is, at this point, difficult to judge with outmost certainty ? The EU tends to play the role of a ideal-scenario in the politics of the Western Balkans. EU is looked at as a remedy for every imaginable political, economic and social problem in these countries. Europe will bring wealth, prosperity, employment, it will make a renewed armed conflict impossible, it will facilitate the independence of Kosovo etc. In short, at least until present, Europe was a demagogic story. After the French and Dutch no vote to Europe, political elite of the Western Balkans can no longer sustain such populist image of Europe. From now, they will have to explain to the population why certain political and economic choices are made without resorting to the European dream. Citizens will justifiably claim, “Wait a moment, if that EU is so great why the Dutch and the French refuse it!”
Does this mean that the effect of these referenda is necessarily positive for it exposes the, so to speak, ‘real’ EU to the voters of the Western Balkans? Is it to make Western Balkans politicians seriously explain to their populations what they win and what they lose in the EU integration process? Does it mean that from now on, every voter in the Western Balkans will be more acquainted what he personally can win and can lose if his country joins the EU?
Not necessarily, there is a threat that such ‘realization’ will only enforce Euro skeptic political forces in these countries that are equally dogmatic and populist. A while ago an archbishop of the Serbian orthodox church said concerning the EU integration, I paraphrase, what does it mean EU will come to us, Europe already came to us, first in 1914 in the uniforms of the Habsburg and German soldiers who occupied our county, then it came again in 1941 in the uniforms of the Nazi soldiers and then finally in 1999 in the form of NATO bombing, do you want that Europe, I do not...There is a danger that such discourses will flourish facing the inevitable stalemate of the EU integration process in this region. Euro skeptics that are still in minority might one day become a majority...this could risk bringing the realities of the 1990s back to the region.
What the member states of the EU must assure is that they do not lose the unique opportunity to pacify its backyard of the Western Balkans and integrate it in the Union. This does not necessarily mean that such integration must occur immediately. This would be potentially damaging for the Union since most of these countries prove still to be unready to join the EU. However, the EU must assure that the French and Dutch no votes do not eliminate the determination to include these countries into the European commonwealth when the time is ripe, that is when they fulfill the conditions. This is not only for humanitarian reasons, to so to speak, being peace and democracy to the region of Western Balkans, but also because it is in the best interest of the EU that playing a decisive role in the pacification of this region, demonstrates that it has a capacity to play the role of a determined international actor. This is a unique opportunity to show to the rest of the world that the EU model of helping democratization and prosperity presents an appealing alternative to the US strategy of democratizing the world.