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Yugoslavia: Kosovo Crisis' Creates EU Dilemma

This is the second of two features in which RFE/RL correspondent Breffni O'Rourke examines the impact of the Kosovo crisis on prospects for eastward expansion of Western structures. This feature focuses on the European Union.

Prague, 9 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Kosovo crisis has put extra strain on the European Union's eastward expansion process, which in any case was under criticism from candidate countries impatient with its slow progress.

Since Kosovo, some of the 10 formal candidates from Central and Eastern Europe have become more outspoken in their demands for action from Brussels. Their concerns have come amid indications that much of the EU's attention in the coming years will be diverted toward helping the fragile Balkan states in and near the former Yugoslavia.

Certainly, the cost to the EU of leading the effort to rebuild Kosovo will be immense, and will be compounded by the cost of helping stabilize Albania and Macedonia. EU officials are already preoccupied with budget cuts in order to find some 700 million dollars for Balkan rebuilding next year alone. Among programs facing cuts are the TACIS and PHARE programs to assist the transition countries. Reports say TACIS, which deals with CIS countries, could lose 100 million dollars.

In addition, the EU is busy debating what sort of relationship to create with the Balkan states, which would help bring them into the European mainstream without necessarily granting them EU membership.

In this charged atmosphere, candidates Bulgaria and Romania are insisting they must not be forgotten. Both are on the Balkan "front-line" and showed reliable support for NATO during the Kosovo conflict. Both now seek pay-offs. From the EU, they want promotion from the second-rank to the front-rank group of candidates at the EU summit in Helsinki next December.

Romanian ambassador to the EU Constantine Ene said recently his country would have a major problem if the EU were to leave Romania and Bulgaria to remain only as secondary candidates. Bulgarian envoy Nikola Karadimov said the same, noting that his country needs motivation to continue what he called its "very painful" reforms.

Brussels, however, does not seem to be heeding calls for flexibility. The June 4 EU summit in Cologne declared that direct membership negotiations -- as sought by the secondary candidates -- can only be held on the basis of the "Copenhagen criteria". These criteria require such things as a functioning democracy and market economy, and EU officials say privately that Romania and Bulgaria do not yet meet the economic criteria.

Finland, which took over as EU presidency last week, says it is determined to keep the enlargement process on track, and on the same track as already laid down. Presidency spokesman Reijo Kemppinen spoke with RFE/RL by telephone this week from Helsinki:

"The best thing that all applicant countries at present could and should do is to concentrate their efforts on enhancing the process in their respective countries, so that the negotiations can go ahead. And, in those countries in which they have not begun, we could begin them."

Kemppinen says Finland will drive forward the enlargement process as fast as it can, and does not foresee any particular danger that the present 10 Central and East European candidates will be overtaken by Balkan events. He says enlargement is all about bringing stability to the whole of Europe, even if the time-scale of membership for individual states is not yet settled.

However, a senior analyst with the Conflict Studies Research Centre at Britain's Royal Military College Sandhurst, James Sherr, sees things rather differently. Sherr says there is a danger that as the EU does expand, it will simply move its present trade barriers further east, leaving those countries still outside the fence even more isolated, and creating new divisions in Europe. Sherr spoke by telephone this week with RFE/RL.

"As the EU moves east, so in effect will a tariff wall, a customs wall and an immigration wall."

Sherr makes the point that at present two million people per month cross the Polish-Ukrainian border under a visa-free regime, mainly for purposes of cross-border trade. Once Poland is in the EU and falls under the Union's external border regime, this trade would have to stop, this curtailing a key revenue source. The same could be said of exchanges across the Hungarian-Romanian border, which Sherr says play a part in keeping nationalist elements in both those countries in check:

"If Hungary now moves behind a tariff wall and if effectively the Hungarian-Romanian frontier becomes as firm a frontier as the border of Germany, then we really are looking at drawing a very firm dividing line between those who are included and those who are excluded."

So it appears that the EU is in a dilemma with expansion, whatever happens. Some observers argue that the best way out would appear to be a two-pronged approach in which full membership is given as soon as possible to those candidates ready for it, while generous assistance and guidance is given to those countries not yet ready.