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2004-05-04

EU extension: and further.. 

Croatia will join soon, I hear in 2007. Romania and Bulgaria. Turkey, Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia/Kosovo, Albania. All this will not be easy.

On the accession of Turkey, apart from the religious opposition, which needs to be overcome, there remain many doubts and concerns. Certainly, there must be continued pressure for improved respect of human rights and civilian rule. Another argument advocated by Johannes Voggenhuber (an Austrian Green EU-politician) is that Turkey should wait until the accession of the western Balkan countries has been achieved, by which he means not before ten years time. Voggenhuber's motivation seems to be rather his desire to see a "deepened" EU with common social policies than some weak-sounding appeal to geographic proximity.

But how fast can and should accession of the remaining Balkan countries proceed? Croatia seems relatively straightforward today, but all of the other countries seem to be weaker economically than the weakest economies in the latest accession round. On top of this, a number of them have weak political and judicial systems, and in some cases, very complex interconnections between the political elite and organised crime. Sauseschritt, which has been blogging at high intensity and quality these days, mentions the situation in Serbia and provides a link to an older article by Alexander Jovanovic at heise which gives a detailed snapshot at one point in time of the landscape of gangs there. From the information I have been given, the situation is quite similar in a fair number of the other countries.

High-level corruption, and political systems collaborating with organised crime are phenomena that IMHO cross the line of what an EU member country can be like. This is not to say that the current EU countries are free of corruption, but there do seem to be significant quantitative differences. So I think the EU must exert credible pressure on countries where such phenomena are well-established, on the theme that the existing situation disqualifies them from membership, and that only serious progress in cleaning up the political systems paves the way for accession. This should also include a major initiative within the current EU member states to free their own political systems from corruption, nepotism and unjustified influence of political parties, otherwise such pressure would be neither legitimate nor credible.

On the other hand, this will in most cases imply time frames for preparatory measures that suffice for the economies to stabilise, and so morally there should be no multi-year adjournments of entry negotiations on economic criteria by the EU. Once the countries feel fit enough on the economic level, they should be given the right to decide themselves whether they want to join the competitive EU markets. This however again will require relatively non-corrupt political systems, because otherwise there will always be a corrupt elite who can and will want to profit handsomely from EU accession, even if it destroys the national economy in the process.

Given the difficulty of the extension task in the Balkans, I do not see why Turkey should wait longer than the Balkan countries, provided it fulfills the requirements. Let Verheugen work on a second "big bang", he likes it.


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