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30 Sep, 2021 11:56

Western fears over Balkan states could spell the end of the EU’s dream of an ever-expanding empire

Western fears over Balkan states could spell the end of the EU’s dream of an ever-expanding empire

The accession of six Eastern European states would change the complexion of the European Union and likely spark an exodus from east to west. It’s no wonder, then, that some Western countries have got cold feet about the idea.

A number of Western European countries have aired their concerns about the European Union’s ambitions to invite six Balkan states to join the bloc.

Indeed, there seems to be a fissure developing between Brussels and a number of EU member states regarding the Balkans. 

Whereas Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, hopes to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia before the end of the year, some European governments are more reticent. 

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A summit of EU and Balkan leaders is due to take place on October 6, where it is hoped a joint statement reaffirming the commitment to accession can be agreed. Yet at the 11th hour, some Western capitals are rowing back on previous commitments.

It is believed the countries involved are France, the Netherlands and Denmark – nations that have, in the main, been supportive of the eastern expansion of the EU. So what has brought about this volte face? The answer is one word: Brexit. 

Paris, Amsterdam and Copenhagen are concerned that Brexit might not have been a one-off. They worry that another wave of Eastern European immigration could turn Western Europe’s voters against the EU, resulting in more countries opting to leave the bloc. 

And they are right to be worried. Because, in my opinion, Brexit would never have happened if it had not been for the accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007. 

Although the UK electorate chose to leave the EU for a plethora of reasons, such as cost and lack of democratic accountability, only a fool would suggest that immigration was not near the top of the list.

And it was my party, UKIP, that drove this agenda. We warned that once the restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians having the right to work in the UK expired in January 2014, there would be a deluge of people heading west. 

For us, it was just a simple case of economics: why work in Bulgaria for 500 euros a month when you can be paid quadruple that in the UK?

Of course, we were laughed at by establishment politicians and the left-wing press at the time. The government claimed that we were scaremongering and that under 13,000 would come. Yet by 2017, 413,000 Bulgarians and Romanians were living in the UK.

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This undoubtedly drove people into the Brexit camp, and this is precisely what the leaders of Western Europe are afraid will happen again. 

France, for example, seems to be becoming more Eurosceptic by the year. Indeed, we see it from the poll ratings for Marine Le Pen and also from the fact that former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is sounding like a Brexiteer.

Moreover, Denmark is becoming increasingly opposed to immigration. Indeed, earlier in the month, the Danish government signalled its intent to make migrants work for their benefits. The last thing the Danish government will want is another huge influx of migrants, especially ones from within the EU who have the right to freedom of movement. 

There are also other reasons why I believe these Western European states are eager to pull the plug on Balkan countries joining the EU, and the first is the perennial European concern about balance of power. 

I have said for some time now that there is a cultural war going on within Europe at the moment, and the dividing line is from east to west. On one side, there is Eastern Europe, which is steeped in Christianity and traditional values, and then there is the liberal west, which has pretty much eschewed the values of yesteryear in favour of ‘live and let live’ lifestyles.

At the moment in the EU, the west has the majority of votes. However, if six Balkan states join, then the balance tips eastward and the numbers begin to even out. Poland and Hungary will be joined by countries like Serbia, which hold similar values, and can alter the complexion of the bloc. 

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Also, the appetite to expand into the Balkans may have died with the resignation of Angela Merkel. After all, Merkel was a vocal advocate of the EU moving into the Balkans, recently saying that “it is in the European Union’s very own interests to drive the [enlargement] process forward here.”

Then there could be the unlikely scenario that politicians have learnt from their past mistakes. Now, this may seem improbable, but it is possible. They could have realised that when it comes to the EU, big is not always better. 

Or maybe they have concluded that it is folly to try and force disparate nations together, many of which have nothing in common bar the fact they share the same continent.

One thing is for sure, the Balkan countries will feel aggrieved by this U-turn. Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia have long-standing commitments from Brussels that they will one day be allowed to join the bloc. 

Now this agreement seems to have been ditched because of domestic electoral concerns in the west. So, the Balkan states must ask themselves, with fair-weather friends like this, do we really want to join the EU anyway?

My message is, don’t do it. 

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.