For relatively poor countries, high environmental standards are costly and reduce their competitiveness. Studies indicate a certain clustering of CEE voting on these issues, but again interests diverge. Poland is keen to protect its coal mines, while Hungary and Slovakia have their important car industries to consider.
Consequently, there are few common positions and there is hardly any voting as a bloc. Particularly the Czech Republic is an outlier that often votes for higher standards. The second assumption is that fundamentally different attitudes between East and West on migration make progress on relevant EU policies impossible. Central and Eastern Europe used to be the most ethnically diverse part of the continent.
But as a consequence of mass murder, expulsions, and changes of borders during World War II, these countries are now ethnically more homogeneous than most other regions of Europe. In more recent years, while high immigration continued in the West, some CEE countries also experienced significant inflows, but mostly from regional neighbors such as Ukraine and the Western Balkans.
But as political scientists Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes have pointed out, this is only part of the explanation. And this demographic angst opens up opportunities for politicians to present the specter of mass immigration of Middle Eastern and African people as an existential threat to the nation. It is therefore unsurprising that the response in the CEE countries to the great influx of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa in — was quite restrictive.
While Germany, Sweden, and some other Western European countries opened their borders, CEE countries tended to close theirs or—when the refugees had already arrived—encourage them to move on to other states as rapidly as possible. Some CEE countries also became prominent opponents of any proposal to distribute the burden of hosting refugees more equally among member states. The EU Council decision in to introduce obligatory quotas of migrants for each state backfired, as it just aggravated the ill feelings about the issue.
Certainly, a number of Western European countries also disliked schemes for redistributing refugees and some Eastern governments signaled a willingness to compromise. In the last three years, the situation has changed. As Western European states have also adopted much more restrictive policies and the number of new arrivals has diminished, the difference between East and West is now much smaller than it used to be. The reluctance to give up national sovereignty to develop stronger EU structures and policies is widely shared today.
And more modest reforms are impeded not by the East-West divide but by the positions of individual populist leaders who prefer to exploit the issue for domestic purposes rather than solve it. The third myth is that the CEE countries suffer from endemic rule-of-law deficits that threaten the functioning of the union. Essentially, there are two types of problem. For the most part, issues result from weaknesses in governance that in some cases go back several centuries. Where no effective state institutions existed throughout much of history, as in many parts of the highly decentralized Ottoman Empire, it will take considerable time to create the required institutional capacity.
Similar problems in southern Italy or Greece show that such challenges are not unique to CEE countries. But for them, the legacy of four decades of Communism is certainly an additional handicap. It was overoptimistic to assume that the EU accession process would remedy these deficits within a few years. But in fact, some CEE countries such as those in the Baltics and, initially, Poland have made rapid progress, whereas others are lagging behind.
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Weak judiciaries and high levels of corruption are certainly problematic for the EU, not least because most of these countries receive a lot of EU aid. But there is hope that over time, the situation will improve as it has in other CEE countries. The real challenge for the EU is to develop incentives to support this process and sharpen the instruments to combat fraud and corruption. Much more serious are situations when the problem is not the legacy of weak state structures but the conscious effort of a governing party to entrench its rule by dismantling constitutional checks and balances, curbing the independence of the judiciary, and reducing the space of independent media and civil society.
Hungary and Poland are currently drifting in this direction. To a more limited extent, this is also true for Romania, where the ruling party is trying to roll back the anticorruption reforms of earlier years. Such behavior creates serious problems for the EU, particularly as it so far lacks effective remedies to deal with such situations.
Nothing has tarnished the image of the CEE as much as these developments. However, there is no justification to conflate the behavior of a few governments with the democratic and rule-of-law standards of the CEE countries as a group. But despite all this evidence that the integration of the CEE countries into the EU has been remarkably successful, many observers still note a distinctly different approach to the EU in the post-Communist states.
Certainly, the rationale of integration in the s, focused on locking France and Germany into a common framework that would make a new war impossible, was alien to countries that at the time experienced forced integration into the Soviet empire. But they were hardly motivated by any federalist philosophy of overcoming the nation-state by sharing sovereignty at the EU level. As Krastev and Holmes have shown, joining Western institutions was primarily perceived as a return to normality and as the pathway to security, prosperity, and freedom.
Until recently, it was hard to see the CEE countries as a major obstacle to deepened integration. But this perception has changed as a result of the arrival of illiberal governments in Hungary and Poland. These governments propagate a much looser union, which still provides economic benefits and funds, but in which powers are shifted back to the member states and EU institutions no longer constrain the internal exercise of power.
From their point of view, the West has betrayed the true European values and thereby lost its legitimacy to provide a model for the new member states. Such rhetoric, while not representative of the views of most CEE countries, nonetheless affects public and elite opinion in the West. In particular, it fuels interest in models for differentiated integration as a way of moving forward despite the reluctance and resistance of some member states.
There is something unreal about this debate, however: neither do Warsaw or Budapest have actual plans for scaling back integration to a more comfortable level, nor are there any concrete proposals for EU integration in a smaller circle. The result is just bad blood and the perception of deepening East-West divisions. The final misconception is that fifteen years after joining the EU, the CEE countries remain the poor relations in the European family, with the older members continuing to run the show and protecting their advantages.
Poland came sixth and Hungary eighth; the other CEE countries all featured in the lower half of the table. The wider Europe is dealt with by the External Affairs Directorate and draws funds from the budget line for external actions chapter 4 of the EU financial framework. Until the end of , this system appeared to be purely binary in nature: the countries of Europe were either candidates on the path to accession, or were consigned to the wider Europe.
The states of the Western Balkans were offered a political commitment that, in due course, they would be able to graduate from the wider Europe and become EU candidates. However, for most of them, this prospect remains in the distant future. In recent times, the distinction between the two camps has become blurred.
Turkey was elevated to candidate status in , together with Romania and Bulgaria. It became the responsibility of DG Enlargement, but continued to receive European assistance from the external affairs budget line. At the end of , the decision was taken at the Copenhagen summit to take future assistance for Turkey from the pre-accession budget chapter 7 , even though accession negotiations are yet to commence.
Turkey is now dealt with as though it were a full EU candidate, even though the decision on whether it meets the conditions to open negotiations will not be made until the end of In short, Turkey now constitutes a new category: pre-accession without negotiations. There are powerful strategic arguments for the European Union to treat Turkey in this way.
It enables the EU to engage much more intensively in its development challenges, bringing new financial resources and institutional tools into play and encouraging its internal reform processes, without committing itself at this stage to a specific accession timetable. There are equally powerful strategic arguments for extending this new category to the Western Balkans: to treat these countries as pre-accession candidates without the obligation to open negotiations on membership until they are found to be fit by the Commission on their individual merits. The progress of each state through the stabilisation and association process and then the accession process is determined by individual circumstances and capacity.
This differentiated approach is a key element of EU strategy in the region, and should be retained. At the same time, there is a strong EU interest in addressing the structural economic problems common to the region as a whole, which pose a continuing threat to the region's fragile political and social stability. It is in the EU's interest to bring its full range of financial and institutional tools to bear on these challenges as soon as possible, whatever the progress of particular states through the stabilisation and association process.
Extending this new, intermediate category — pre-accession status without negotiations — to the Western Balkans would resolve a number of tensions inherent in the EU's current strategy in the region. First and most importantly, it would help to prevent the region falling further behind in the fundamental development goals of European integration. The countries of the Western Balkans are unlikely to become credible accession candidates unless they manage to address their structural economic problems.
Enabling them to access pre-accession aid while still in the Stabilisation and Association Process would provide immediate incentives for them to develop their own tools for regional development, while providing them with the technical and financial assistance to begin addressing their structural economic problems. Second, this would help to prevent the accession process itself from creating new lines of division within the region. Croatia has recently submitted its application for membership. Once negotiations with Croatia begin, the gap between Croatia and its eastern neighbours would widen, creating further pressures in the region.
However, not addressing the Croatian application for fear of its impact on other countries is not a credible policy option either, given the European Commission's commitment to judging membership prospects on an individual basis.
Indeed, the EU should be concerned that its current strategies may have created incentives for other countries in the region to submit their membership applications as soon as possible, to avoid missing the accession train and being consigned to a "wider Europe" which offers few perspectives. Such a rush towards formal accession would risk undermining the Stabilisation and Association Process. The best way to avoid this is to introduce forms of pre-accession assistance into the Stabilisation and Association Process.
Third, the provision of structural assistance in advance of the formal accession process would provide a major boost to present EU efforts to strengthen reform processes and governance capacity in the region. The strength of the assistance methodology developed by the European Commission through pre-accession funds and regional policies is its ability to deliver a governance dividend — that is, to provide aid in such a way as to build the incentives and capacity of national governments to carry out regional development, and to mobilise domestic resources through the principle of co-financing.
A recent review of absorption capacity and transfers notes "the fundamental contribution of Structural Fund intervention to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the public administration in Greece.
Convergence, Cohesion and Integration in the European Union
The Thessaloniki Summit planned in June offers a real opportunity to redefine the nature of the European engagement in the Western Balkans. It needs to send a strong signal that the promise of the Europeanisation for the region will not fade with the next wave of enlargement. Thessaloniki provides an opportunity for the EU to make a commitment to cohesion for the Western Balkans, beginning a process of engaging a new set of instruments and strategies to help the region reach the point where EU accession becomes a realistic possibility.
The success of the Thessaloniki Summit could be measured by the following three benchmarks:. Cohesion is not an objective of the EU in the wider Europe or the rest of the world, but a specific aspect of EU integration.
The Road To Thessaloniki: Cohesion And The Western Balkans - reports - Reports - ESI
It requires a more significant commitment of resources, and more intensive involvement by European institutions. It return, it offers the EU significantly more leverage to bring about real change in the region. It would place the EU in a much stronger position to demand a credible commitment to the other pillars of EU policy: responsible fiscal policies and an open trade environment.
Already today most countries of the region have reduced inflation. Some already use the Euro as official tender or have introduced currency boards. Across the region, bilateral free-trade agreements are reducing trade barriers with each passing year. By making a pledge to support cohesion on a regional basis, it would also place the EU in a strong position to demand a common Western Balkan effort along these lines.
In effect, this means extending to the Western Balkans the category of "pre-accession without negotiations", along the lines of recent decisions on Turkey. It means that the EU makes a serious commitment to preventing the countries of the Western Balkans from falling behind the wider region, and helping them to reach a level of development where formal accession becomes a real possibility. To use any funds more effectively, it would be essential to begin to employ new assistance strategies, applying the experiences gained from cohesion policy elsewhere in Europe as to how to mobilise domestic resources, build governance capacity and encourage the emergence of regional development policies.
It may be appropriate at Thessaloniki for the Commission to undertake to examine how lessons from the cohesion funds can be applied in the Western Balkans, including co-financing, conditionality, regional development planning and partnership between the Commission and national and regional governments. Making a serious commitment to cohesion in the Western Balkans is more about developing new assistance strategies, than about mobilising large new financial resources. However, the gap in resources envisaged to be spent past in Romania vs.
Serbia, or in Bulgaria vs. Macedonia, raises obvious questions as to the credibility of European engagement in the region. To make a serious commitment to promoting cohesion in the Western Balkans, the European Union needs to stabilise its assistance levels and place them within a credible long-term strategy. The sums of money required to achieve this are not as high as might be supposed.
Bringing this commitment up to the level of 2 percent of regional GDP would still be less than the EU commitment to Bulgaria and Romania. It would also be consistent with the lessons on national absorption capacity that the Commission has learned in recent decades. To finance cohesion policies in the period , the European Union could supplement the existing CARDS budget with pre-accession funds, beginning the process of moving the Western Balkans from appropriation 4 external actions to appropriation 7 pre-accession aid.
While the reform of the Berlin criteria will take into account the changing socioeconomic status of the southern periphery, the higher ceiling will prevent it from receiving a more considerable financial increase. When compared to the previous programming period, the Member States that have their aid intensity lowered are clustered in Eastern Europe Estonia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary.
Less accentuated increases in aid intensity, are, instead, proposed for some of the southern European Member States: in particular, Greece, Italy, and Spain, along with Romania and Bulgaria. As a consequence, cohesion policy, in —, will be too small a blanket to cater to the needs of two distinct peripheries adequately. On the other hand, the eastern periphery will receive considerably fewer resources in exchange for increased political conditionality , which will add to the growing Eurosceptic sentiment.
In the context of Brexit and rising Euroscepticism across the continent that has focused on mis interpretations of the effects of labour mobility, the question of a European Social Union cannot sidestep the East-West chasm and treat the Eurozone as its only priority.
Instead, digitalisation and demographic change are accorded the majority of German bureaucratic headspace. When dealing with EU reform proposals, the literature also tends to focus on the contrasts between Germany and France. Germany and Italy are of particular interest because they developed a different reading of the euro crisis.
By Niccolo Donati.
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