The Western Balkan countries are poorer than they were 30 years ago, which is why they will need at least 25 years to reach the EU and therefore Germany has submitted a plan “Berlin process plus”, said project director for the Balkans at the European Institute CIFE in Nice and member of the Advisory group for the Balkan policy in Europe (BiEPAG) Tobias Flessenkemper for the RFE/RL.
He adds that it is still anything but on the level of ideas.
“We haven’t heard anything especial about the funds, there is even no legal mechanism. Everything is still on the level of idea,” he explained.
“However, we know what are the needs of the region and their fulfillment doesn’t depend on the money. One of the obstacles to its development is a huge deficit in trade with the EU. Since 2006, it has risen to 98 billion euros. This means that such relationships are established so that European countries can export to the Western Balkans, while the economies of the region are not qualified to make any significant exports to the EU market,” he says.
He adds that the opportunity was missed to build and developed infrastructure.
“Train and highway network lags well behind the European standards. It does not appear that the EU will be quickly engaged as will other actors. There are plans, but the necessary money slowly arrives,” says Flessenkemper.
According to him, apart from infrastructure, education is essential.
“As you know, the quality of education has declined in the last 40 years, despite the growing number of private schools and universities. Their structure and quality are not adapted to the needs of the economy. Most people are looking for a job in the public sector or tries to go abroad,” he said.
He also warns that, “the ruling elite in the Balkans can misuse the funds that are only in the arrangement to strengthen their positions.”
“That is why Gabriel (German Foreign Minister) emphasized that the money should go directly to the citizens and civil society. The funds from EU pre-accession funds are distributed through Balkan countries.” explains Flessenkemper.
However, there is reason to suspect that this initiative will be implemented, according to Flessenkemper, and he recalls the experience with the Stability Pact, which was launched nearly 20 years ago in a similar manner to provide funds, but which did not give a whole lot of results because of bureaucracy and slowness.
Another problem is, as Flessenkemper says,that there is a mechanism for pre-accession aid should be re-examined in the next cycle of 2020, and the third is the speed.
“It takes time to establish a new mechanism. Europeans are not known for their speed in realizing such initiatives, while other are more expeditious,” Flessenkemper points out and adds that the question is whether the German initiative will get off the ground quickly.
On a statement that it is considered on Balkans that “Berlin Plus process” could be used as a substitute for the full membership of the EU, taking in consideration the enlargement fatigue on the old continent, Flessenkemper says that there are multiple problems with Balkans.
According to him, countries of the region are pretty integrated into European structure.
“They all have trade agreements with the EU. Also, they are involved in air traffic with many connecting flights that are the part of the European Energy Community … Integration at the political level is missing, namely, the question is whether and when the political system of each country in the region will be sufficiently credible to fulfill promises and qualifies for membership of the EU. And it showed that the level of democracy is not European in them this year,” said Flessenkemper.
He says the EU is trying to reduce the economic backwardness of the Balkans, but also notes that EU membership does not mean that the country achieved the level of the Union.
“So, the key question is not whether the Balkan country will formally become EU members, but the arrival at the European economic levels. Therefore, Gabriel said that we should now invest in strategic sectors, so that the region could reduce the gap. Also, membership does not automatically mean that you have reached the European average. Some countries have succeeded, while others, such as Croatia, have not,” he concludes.