Department of International Relations, University of National and World Economy, Sofia, Bulgaria

Southeastern Europe in the EU Enlargement Perspective

The end of the Cold War had a significant impact on the region of Southeastern Europe and brought about various changes. The involved countries, embarked on a journey that involved a complete transition of their political, social and economic structures in order to build a democratic political system and a free market economy. These transitional efforts are common for most of the countries yet, there are some specific characteristics for each of them. What is common is the orientation towards the EU and NATO. The countries in the region Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and those that seceded from Yugoslavia, Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia oriented their foreign policies towards Euro-Atlantic integration.

Yugoslavia however did not go this way while Milosevic was an active president. Once he was ousted, there were certain indications of change in Yugoslavia but they are still vague and undistinguished.

The EU Enlargement towards Southeastern Europe has mostly been a matter of political deliberations rather than practical efforts of realization. The main reason for this is the lack of vision on behalf of the EU for such a political and economic entity as the enlarged EU. Meaning, they don't fully understand its potentiality. The EU itself is not aware of how the Union is to develop between now and later. A special advance, as far as institutional arrangements were envisaged, was made at the European Council in Nice in December of 2000.

First, it has to build a new institutional mechanism and efficient procedure of decision-making in view of the larger number of potential member-states.

Second, the Union needs to make further efforts in terms of promoting and supporting its own identity, keeping in mind the British attitude towards EU policies and the Danish opting against the Euro.

Third, it has to cope with pending economic issues concerning the Union such as maintaining the stability of the Single European Currency (EURO) which has been restless since the early days of its being.

The EU enlargement process, except posing challenges to the EU itself, is related to the great expectations of candidate countries for EU association and accession. The problem is that different countries are on different tracks. Albeit having similar aspirations, there are horizontal and vertical subdivisions among the candidates. The front-runners in the horizontal subdivision are the Central European countries, whereas the South European countries are the runners-up in the vertical subdivision. The already established queue approach is likely to dominate the EU enlargement process in the short and long run. This approach affects mostly SEE countries remaining in the vertical subdivision, and, perhaps owing to this, there is severe competition among the SEE countries in attracting the EU's attention.

The EU has a special vision for the region of Southeastern Europe. That is why it is considered separately from the Central European countries. The countries in SEE have achieved quite different stages in fulfilling the EU criteria. Yet, they even have different status, i.e. Bulgaria and Romania applied for accession while Croatia, Macedonia and Albania have negotiated association status and have recently concluded association and stabilization agreements with the EU. Obviously, Yugoslavia will be another case. In these circumstances, it is quite difficult for the EU to find an adequate way to treat Southeastern European countries. Given its inability to establish a differentiated approach to each country, the EU finds that it is more convenient to set them all in a group utilizing the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe as an interim resort. The Process of stabilizing Southeastern Europe is considered as a preparation stage for European integration. From a pragmatic point of view, it would be an efficient approach in fulfilling the political and economic criteria and to establish a new type of relations and interactions among the countries in the region.

However, in this respect, Bulgaria is deeply affected by such treatment and has provoked a strong reaction from the Bulgarian government. This reaction has its grounds because Bulgaria is one of the few who have met the political criteria for membership.

In terms of economic criteria, however, which are even more important for EU membership, the SEE countries' performance is considerably poor. Thus, regional economic development, as a complementary process to the process of European integration, is badly needed. For example, the Partnership for Peace Initiative is viewed as such a preparatory process in achieving NATO standards.

The Stability Pact was designed to promote stability in the region. Although thought of as a good idea or initiative, the Pact did not turn out to be a working instrument. There are some useful hints and prompts but strategic aims cannot be identified and no practical realization has been achieved.

A very important issue in this respect is the problem of communication among political, cultural, business and economic elites, civil exchange, etc. Is it going to be an intra-regional communication or communication between the region and the EU? The main topic is how to ensure sustainable development and what the EU's contribution will be in the end.

All of these factors bring to the surface the very pending question of whether the region is going to be reintegrated into Europe or if it will have a marginal status. The recent developments in Macedonia and the activities of ethnic Albanians, both in Kosovo and Macedonia, will be viewed as hazardous contributions in terms of promoting the marginal status of the region, thus reaffirming the Balkans as a periphery of Europe.

On the contrary, as a counter scenario to the marginalization of the region, is the association and accession to the EU, which is a question of vital interest for the countries in Southeastern Europe. This however, is not merely a matter of political declaration but more so a problem of economic performance. It is certainly not easy to be poor and join the rich. Thus, the problem of EU enlargement has an ambivalent nature referring to the political and economic groundwork in both the EU and Southeastern European applicant countries.