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EU’s snub of Balkan nations exposes once and for all the myth of so-called ‘European unity’

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
EU’s snub of Balkan nations exposes once and for all the myth of so-called ‘European unity’
In turning its back on six Balkan nations targeting accession, the EU has revealed what many already knew: It’s a patronising, self-aggrandising project looking to maintain power in the hands of the ruling political elite.

The  message to prospective new members seeking entry to the European Union’s plush, fiercely guarded club is loud and clear: If your face doesn’t fit, then you ain’t welcome.

The rich and powerful buzz around the Belgian capital in their fleet of electric Volvos, police outriders escorting them through the choking traffic, dine at Michelin-starred restaurants and stay in the best hotels during the week, before decamping to their chateaux and vineyards at the weekend. There’s no inclination to share the spoils, and certainly no point in opening membership to tricksy nations that just might question what the hell is going on.

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So, unsurprisingly, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania have had their hopes of joining the EU any time soon dashed. Not only have they been snubbed over efforts to impose a 2030 deadline for admission, but Brussels has now changed the rules of the game. It used to be that nations showing they could adhere to the rule of law and espouse European values would – after a suitable amount of time on the waiting list – find the gateway to membership unlocked.

Now, however, it’s all down to politics. In business team building, it’s called ‘culture fit’ – but that’s just another way to exclude members you don’t like, without saying as much. Because without exception, the half-dozen hopefuls are nations very different to their western European neighbours, who aren’t particularly fond of the way the prospects roll.

Which is tough, because they led them on, giving them belief that the riches on offer through EU membership would one day be theirs, and they could put the horrors of the past behind them as they skipped through the sunlit uplands. Not so fast.

For these six nations have a lot in common that simply unsettles the progressives of Brussels. They have a common experience of chaos and death throughout the 1990s, during a decade of separate but related ethnic conflicts, wars of independence and insurgencies as the Yugoslav federation disintegrated. They also share traditional values, mainly conservative orthodox religious beliefs, and a social outlook underpinned by those characteristics.

The decadence of Hamburg’s Reeperbahn, the weed tourists of Amsterdam, the late-night exuberance of Barcelona and the glittering stores lining the Champs-Élysées in Paris are a world away from the shaky economies, endemic corruption and rural sensibilities of the poorer Balkan states.

Joining the EU, however, is supposed to be about bridging that divide. Bulgaria and Romania, hardly exemplary nations back in 2007, were given the nod, and it changed those countries forever. They both still suffer systemic problems with corruption but membership has certainly improved the lot of their citizens, if only through access to the pots of money sloshing around the EU.

What really must sting, though, is that the shunned six have been waiting patiently in the queue for years – North Macedonia first applied for EU membership back in 2004 – being scolded over their governance, told to clean up their act, bowing to the demands made upon them in order to be considered the right stuff for the bloc. They’ve played nice, been suitably submissive and tried their best to please Brussels. But evidently, that was just not enough. Their efforts were all for nothing.

Well, not exactly nothing. As some sort of ‘sorry, not sorry’ gesture, the EU did agree to create a new €9bn economic and investment plan for the six nations. That’s the Brussels answer to any problem – throw money at it.

While European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen might declare, “The Western Balkans belong to the European Union,” clearly not everyone agrees. That leaves six disillusioned Balkan states feeling insulted and treated like decidedly second-class citizens. 

Also on rt.com EU chief tells Balkans they are ‘one family’ despite Germany refusing to set date to grant those countries membership of the bloc

Other global powers with interests they would like to pursue in the region might just feel now is a good time to pick up the phone to Belgrade, Tirana, Sarajevo, Podgorica, Pristina or Skopje and start a conversation about exploring mutual interests.

After this latest snub to the countries of the western Balkans, no one could blame them for seeking friends elsewhere.

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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.

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