Interview with MEP Libor Roucek, vice-chair of the EP’s Foreign Affairs Committee
Western Balkans should not fall victim to Wall Street bankers
By Joanna Sopinska | Thursday 30 April 2009
Libor Roucek (PES, Czech Republic), one of the strongest supporters of EU enlargement among the members of the European Parliament, argues that despite undergoing serious political and economic difficulties, the European Union should continue its expansion policy. He is against any break to be taken by the Union, advocating instead the process of enlargement to continue in parallel with internal economic and institutional reforms of the EU.
Do you agree with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that after admitting Croatia the EU should take a break in its enlargement?
I do not share this opinion. There is a so-called unfinished business in the Western Balkans. In 2003 in Thessaloniki, the EU made clear its commitment to enlarge towards the Western Balkans. Despite all the difficulties we are having now with the previous enlargements, the Lisbon Treaty and the economic crisis, we should not forget this promise. Of course, it is clear that the countries in question are not ready yet to accede. But we should continue the process. In the past, in a parallel way, the EU was consolidating internally and carried out the enlargement process. In the framework of the current serious difficulties, we should take the same approach and continue enlargement.
Do you think that the current economic crisis and the unfinished institutional reform are legitimate reasons for enlargement to be put on hold?
We have to do both. We need to have the Lisbon Treaty in place. There is no doubt about that. At the same time, we should continue the enlargement process. There are negotiations with Croatia, where there are certain difficulties resulting from the border dispute with Slovenia. All the countries have now signed their stabilisation and association agreements, and thus they can move forward in the process. It is clear that countries like the FYROM, Montenegro and Albania want to be admitted in the foreseeable future. Therefore we should make sure not to let down the countries and their citizens just because we have been undergoing certain economic or political difficulties. The financial crisis, which we are now struggling with, was not caused by Belgrade or Tirana. These countries, as well others in the region, should not fall victim to some bankers on Wall Street.
Do you think that against the backdrop of a worsening economic and political atmosphere in the EU, other countries could follow Germany?
I do not think that Germany is against enlargement in principle. Yes, Germany wants the EU to consolidate. And I fully support this approach. The EU needs to strengthen its structures now. That means that we should focus on the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. There is no doubt. But at the same time, we should not forget about people in the Western Balkans.
What is the most realistic timeframe for the accession of the Western Balkan countries? Would a decade be enough to get all of them into the club?
It is very difficult to specify the date as it depends mostly on the countries themselves and on how successful they will be in their reforms. It also depends on the EU member states, of course. It is clear, however, that it will not happen in the next few years as the countries are not ready yet.
There are problems in the Balkans but the question mark is even bigger over Turkey’s European prospects. Is Turkey’s accession to the Union still realistic?
The accession process is ongoing. It is important, however, to remember that a lot depends on Turkey itself and on how willing it is to implement reforms. Last year, because of the political upheaval and the elections, the reform process slowed down considerably. In order to speed up the accession process, Turkey needs to step up the reforms. According to an agreement by all member states, the negotiation with Ankara is an open-ended process, but leading at the same time to full membership.
However, Germany and France propose ‘privileged partnership’ instead of full membership.
Upon signing the agreement with Turkey a few years ago, France and Germany accepted that the goal of the process is full membership. It is an open-ended process at the same time, giving both parties the right to decide at the end of talks. Nobody knows whether Turkey will eventually want to enter the EU.
What may be the consequences of a freeze on enlargement in the Western Balkans and Turkey?
Like I said, the EU should not slow down its enlargement process. It is in the interest of everybody and would promote stability and prosperity in the EU if all Western Balkan countries join the club.