Sunday, October 04, 2009

Ireland Says Yes, And EU Expansion Could Follow

At the second time of asking, voters in Ireland have approved the EU's Lisbon Treaty. The treaty is supposed to make the EU run more smoothly, now that it has 27 members. Ireland is the only country which has held a referendum on the treaty, because the Irish constitution states that it has to. The treaty would probably be voted down if many other countries held similar polls, but that's not really important, because all the other EU governments are merely approving the treaty in their parliaments. That process should be complete by the end of this year.

One of the consequences of adopting the treaty is that the EU will expand further. The simpler decision-making processes that the treaty will introduce should make this traditionally tortuous process a bit easier. Countries keen to join as soon as possible include the next most likely entrant, Croatia, which is moving closer after apparently resolving a border dispute with Slovenia. After Croatia, there are other Balkan countries to consider, including Bosnia and Serbia.

For years it has seemed that those nations would ultimately be admitted into the EU once the remaining outstanding details of the 1992-95 war were resolved, such as the war criminals who remain at large. But both Bosnia and Serbia face considerable other problems. For Bosnia, the main issue is trying to get the two halves of the country (it was split into a Muslim-Croat part and a Serb part by the Dayton peace deal) to work together. After a series of disagreements between the two administrations, an international conference has been called for this Friday in Sarajevo to try to sort it out. Without political harmony across the whole of its territory, Bosnia's hopes of EU entry will remain distant.

Serbia's position is probably worse. Serb nationalism remains a potent and, in the west at least, a largely underestimated factor. There are still significant elements within Serbia which would rather the country was allied more closely with its traditional friend Russia than join the EU. Recent large-scale job losses have helped lead to dissatisfaction with the (still newish) pro-western and pro-EU government in Belgrade. Also, the recent cancellation of a planned gay pride event in fear of violence from right-wing groups has acted as a reminder that, socially, Serbia is not yet the sort of modern, forward-looking country the EU would like to welcome into the union.

There is a significant move forward coming up in January, though. Serbian citizens are expected to be given the right to travel to the rest of the EU without a visa, a privilege they last enjoyed when they were part of Yugoslavia. The fact that Serbs have not been allowed to move easily throughout Europe in recent years has helped stoke resentment against the EU. Removing that barrier could help make sure Serbia, and its people, see their future in Europe and not elsewhere.

1 comment:

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