The events in Ukraine have been four months in the making, something that I argue has been the fault of meddling by the EU, but until the last few days have only received scant media coverage in the UK. Nor are the worst riots in Bosnia since the civil war getting much coverage, or the demonstrations in Montenegro. So I thought that, with just three months to go until the European elections, I would do a ‘State of the Union’, and round up of some of the other things happening with the other potential new club members.
Albania. EU membership has very strong support in Albania, with 87% of the population showing support. In October 2013 Albania hired former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as its special advisor to help it through the EU accession process, a move guaranteed to polarise opinion. Albania’s status as an official EU candidate was dealt a blow in December when the Netherlands’ Parliament voted to block their further progress in membership. This veto was a direct challenge to the primacy of the European Commission in matters relating to expansion, the Commission already having appeared to have green-lighted the process a few days before, with Commissioner Fuhle declaring “Albania has delivered, and so should the EU.”
Albania has a GDP per capita of $4,000 compared with an EU average of $34,500, so they can expect to be substantial beneficiary of EU funds once they join the Club. However, she was declared 116/175 in Transparency International’s Perception of Corruption Index 2013 so there are serious misgivings about her membership, despite what Fuhle says. Moreover, with an average monthly wage of £310 Albanian workers could well be attracted to the UK which boasts an average wage of £2066. There have also been concerns raised regarding increasing crime rates in Albania.
Albania’s candidate status has been referred back to the Council for June 2014.
Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since 2003 Bosnia and Herzegovina has been on the list to join the EU. Like many countries in the region, on her list of ‘to do’ things for the EU have been improving civil society and clamping down on corruption. Tensions arising from mass unemployment and corruption within the country, which is dangerously split between Muslim, Serb and Croat people, have spilt over this year with the worst violence seen since the 1992-5 war. Demonstrations began on 4th February, and almost two weeks ago things turned more violent with 130 people injured in one day, including 104 policemen, and Government buildings stormed. Political resignations have occurred across the country, and new elections are expected to be called. EU Commissioner Fuhle has bent sent to the country to try and find a solution.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is in line to receive €350 million from the EU in addition to other international payments. But, as Balkan Insider reports: “The average Bosnian has not seen any of the $1,400 per capita of international assistance that has for years been given to their country”, and Spiegel notes that by 2006 almost €2 billion simply vanished.
Georgia. Relations between the EU and Georgia started in 1992 just after Georgia regained its sovereignty in the wake of the break-up of the Soviet Union. Bilateral relations have further intensified since the 2003 “Rose Revolution” which brought to power a new Georgian administration committed to an ambitious programme of political and economic reforms. Since the European Council agreement of 2006 and its ENP Action Plan, Georgia and the EU have committed themselves to economic and political integration. Since then Georgia has received almost €300 million in funding from the EU.
In 2008 Georgia fought, and lost, a war with Russia.
F.Y.R. Macedonia. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was granted candidate country status for EU membership in 2005. In October 2009, the Commission recommended that accession negotiations be opened. Since 2007 the country has been awarded €614 million from the EU, but its institutions are so weak that they have been unable to put the money to work. Ambassador Orav said of the inefficiencies endemic in FYR Macedonia: “The challenges that we face include difficulties in absorbing money where institutions face restrictions in the aspect of quality and sometimes quantity.” It seems that despite the EU being prepared to open up funding to the country, accession to the Club will remain a distant prospect.
F.Y.R. Macedonia faces a Greek veto to accession over the use of Macedonia for the country. Current talks attracted demonstrations claiming Greek racism.
F.Y.R. Macedonia has a one third Albanian minority that has created issues that have led to bloodshed as recently as 2002.
Moldova. The EU uses the same language regarding accession for Moldova as it does for Ukraine:The EU is developing an increasingly close relationship with Moldova, going beyond co-operation, to gradual economic integration and a deepening of political co-operation. Moldova remains one of the poorest countries in Europe. With its moderate climate and good farmland, Moldova’s economy relies heavily on its agriculture sector, featuring fruits, vegetables, wine, and tobacco. With few natural energy resources, Moldova imports almost all of its energy supplies from Russia. Moldova’s dependence on Russian energy is underscored by an estimated $4.3 billion debt to Russian natural gas supplier Gazprom due largely to unreimbursed natural gas consumption in the separatist Transnistria region, putting it is a similar situation as Ukraine finds itself today vis-à-vis Russia.
In a recent referendum 95% of the people of the Moldovan region of Gagauzia supported the integration into the Customs Union with Russia, rather than the EU.
Since 2007 Moldova has received more than €500 million in funds from the EU.
In November 2013 the EU relaxed visa requirements for Moldovans.
Serbia. Serbia was at the centre of the 1990s Balkan wars that killed 140,000 people, displaced 4 million more and eventually split the federation into seven separate entities, including Kosovo. Following the cessation of violence in 1999, the country was identified as a potential candidate for EU membership during the Thessaloniki European Council summit in 2003. In 2008, a European partnership for Serbia was adopted, setting out priorities for the country’s membership application, and in 2009 Serbia formally applied. In March 2012 Serbia was granted EU candidate status. In September 2013 a Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the EU and Serbia entered into force. View the online clock counting down until Serbian EU membership.
The Accession process has been championed by First Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Progressive Party, Aleksandar Vucic, formerly a Minister of Information for the Milosovic regime, and known for his suppression of journalists. Claims have also been levelled against him that the current anti-corruption drive has been used to target political opponents.
The EU has made it clear that, in order to gain EU membership, Serbia must recognise Kosovo’s independence, and talks in 2013 set in motion that process.
Serbia has suffered two recessions since 2009 and, while its Central Bank predicts a modest growth in GDP in 2014 its living standards are around a third of the EU average and suffers 25% unemployment.
Serbia receives over €200 million each year in funding from the EU.
Turkey. In 1987, Turkey applied to join what was then the European Economic Community, and in 1997 it was declared eligible to join the EU. Accession negotiations started in 2005, but the EU stated that until Turkey agrees to apply the Ankara Association Agreement to Cyprus and recognise the Greek half, there will be no further progress.
Turkey is currently in the midst of a massive corruption scandal involving political bribes involving construction contracts and football match-fixing that has led to three ministers, whose sons had been rounded up, quitting the cabinet of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. By early January nearly 2,000 in the police force, including 15 provincial police chiefs and the deputy head of the national police, had been removed or reassigned, and $4.5 million in cash was discovered stuffed in shoe boxes at the home of the chief executive of a state-run bank. At the end of last year it was announced that the country jailed more reporters than any other country in the world, and in January 2014 took its total of 40 journalists behind bars to 51 with more arrests as part of its clampdown.
EU funding to Turkey has increased from €492 million in 2007 to €903 million last year.