Brexit shakes hopes of Balkan EU bid­ders

Kathimerini English - - Focus -

BEL­GRADE (AP) – When Bri­tain voted to leave the Euro­pean Union, pro-Rus­sians in Ser­bia were quick to pro­claim the bloc’s death: They lit can­dles and laid flow­ers in front of the EU head­quar­ters in Bel­grade and de­clared the coun­try’s ef­forts to join the 28-na­tion club null and void.

Al­though the mock death cer­tifi­cate pub­lished by a Krem­lin-backed group may be a bit pre­ma­ture, Ser­bia and other Balkan na­tions which suf­fered through wars and vi­o­lent breakups of their states in the 1990s will cer­tainly now face more hur­dles and de­lays to their mem­ber­ship bids as the EU it­self is fall­ing apart.

It was the prom­ise of Eastern ex­pan­sion, cham­pi­oned by Bri­tain, that helped halt the bru­tal 1990s wars among for­mer Yu­goslav re­publics. With the EU mem­ber­ship prospect now di­min­ish­ing and the bloc split­ting up, the volatile Balkan re­gion bor­der­ing the Union could now fall prey to power play­ers such as Rus­sia.

Ser­bia, Mon­tene­gro, For­mer Yu­goslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia (FYROM), Bos­nia, Kosovo and Al­ba­nia, all at dif­fer­ent stages of join­ing the EU, have de­clared that the vote for a Bri­tish exit in a ref­er­en­dum last week will not di­min­ish their mem­ber­ship ef­forts. But their lead­ers have ac­knowl­edged that the weak­ened EU may not be as ap­peal­ing as it used to be.

“This is the big­gest po­lit­i­cal earth­quake since the fall of the Ber­lin Wall,” Ser­bian Prime Min­is­ter Alek­san­dar Vu­cic said. “There is no doubt that this will leave sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quences not only in short but in long terms. What will the EU en­large­ment pol­icy be I can­not tell you at this mo­ment.”

Ser­bia, strate­gi­cally im­por­tant for Rus­sia as it re­mains its only real ally in the re­gion, has faced re­lent­less pro­pa­ganda and po­lit­i­cal pres­sure from the Krem­lin to ditch its proWestern al­liances. Rus­sian of­fi­cials have de­manded that ref­er­en­dums be held in Ser­bia on its EU and pos­si­bly NATO bids, count­ing on strong his­toric ties be­tween the two Slavic na­tions.

“The Brexit is not good news for the coun­tries in the re­gion, es­pe­cially Ser­bia, which has the clos­est ties to Rus­sia,” said Jel­ica Minic from the Euro­pean Move­ment in Ser­bia, adding that the lat­est polls show that Serbs are largely Eu­roskep­tics and in­creas­ingly turn­ing to­ward Rus­sia. “Ser­bia is dan­ger­ously slid­ing to­ward Rus­sia,” she said.

Moscow has also been very ac­tive in Bos­nia, work­ing through the Bos­nian-Serb mini-state there whose of­fi­cials have been block­ing the coun­try’s Mus­lims and Croats from their ef­forts to join the EU and NATO.

For years mem­ber­ship in the EU was seen by many in Bos­nia as a goal that would bring some sta­bil­ity to peo­ple’s lives, but the rup­ture in the EU brings back bad me­mories of the Yu­goslav tragedy.

“This is not go­ing to end well. I see noth­ing good in the fu­ture,” said Sara­je­van Zuhra Coric, re­fer­ring to Brexit.

Bos­nian po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Ivana Maric be­lieves what is hap­pen­ing now in the EU could have a pos­i­tive ef­fect as Bri­tain has never been com­pletely in­te­grated and the Union may come out of this more “con­nected.”

“What hap­pened to the pound will dis­cour­age other forces in Europe who con­sid­ered sim­i­lar ref­er­en­dums,” she said, re­fer­ring to the drop of the Bri­tish cur­rency on the ex­change mar­kets im­me­di­ately af­ter the ref­er­en­dum. “How­ever, the en­large­ment process may be de­layed.”

FYROM has been an EU can­di­date mem­ber since 2005, but its bid has been blocked by Greece over the name dis­pute.

FYROM Pres­i­dent Gjorge Ivanov ex­pressed “great con­cern” with Brexit and said he fears that the EU may now split up with more of its mem­ber-states leav­ing.

“We, who are older gen­er­a­tion, ex­pe­ri­enced the tragedy of the for­mer Yu­goslavia, where there was also a sys­tem of col­lec­tive de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Where is that state now? We are wor­ried by the pos­si­bil­ity that the Euro­pean Union may fol­low the same road,” Ivanov said.

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