In these short-termist times, unlike our mobiles and computers, we have neither the memory nor the necessary perspective to properly address the challenges of the day. Modern foreign policy is dominated by short-term thinking. It is concerned with managing diaries, summits, and international egos. It does not pay enough attention to resolving conflict or to the awkward diplomatic “dossiers” that require more hard diplomacy, political will, and patience than virtually any Western leader is today prepared to risk. Our leaders prioritise instant success and the “mission accomplished” model over real progress, as witnessed by the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The “CNN effect” of the 1990s mobilised international opinion by bringing the suffering of the besieged in Sarajevo directly into our homes. Now, we have moved on to “Twitter diplomacy”: dealing in 144 characters with problems that have been entrenched for generations.
These short-termist times, along with the political opportunism that accompanies them, make it harder to address long-term problems, such as democratisation and transformation of societies. Some Europeans, confusing neighbourhood policy with enlargement policy, made vague promises of a European perspective for Ukraine. As things are today, the European Union cannot keep those promises. Beyond geopolitics, Ukraine shows us that the next crisis for EU foreign policy will be enlargement – as well as being the next challenge for the EU’s internal cohesion. Closer to home than Kyiv, at around the same time as the events on the Maidan, protests in forgotten Bosnia led to the burning of public buildings and popular assemblies were organised to demand changes to an exhausted political system. Just as it sank under the floods of May, Bosnia continues to sink as a state. It is back on the agenda of Europe’s foreign ministers – even if only for the duration of a working lunch.
Three parallel worlds in the Balkans
In the Balkans, there are three parallel worlds. The European one keeps to the rhythm of the EU agenda. The day-to-day world of Balkan citizens consists of weak democratic governance, economic crisis, nationalism, and the absence of opportunity for large segments of the population. And at times, the realm of big diplomacy is also present, for example in the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, whose potential could wither if political will declines and if Kosovo fails to board the European train with Serbia.
Enlargement, which was once successful, now threatens to attract symbolic failures such as Bosnia and to become one more factor in internal EU divisions. A lot of issues play a part in this: the dilemma of enlargement versus cohesion, the continuing doubts about the real level of Europeanisation of candidate states, and the stridency of Europhobic Europe, currently attacking European pillars such as freedom of movement. Before being elected president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker announced that a brake would be put on enlargement if parliaments such as that of the Netherlands vote for a halt. This negative cacophony weakens Europe’s transformative power not only in the Balkans but also in Ukraine and in Eastern Europe as a whole.
Europe is at a crossroads, both at home and in its neighbourhood. The solution must be neither a withdrawal nor the Pyrrhic victories of “Twitter diplomacy”. An entirely new internal and external agenda is needed. Otherwise, we are heading towards a Europe that is fragmented, unattractive, weak and, what is more, surrounded by black holes in the east and the south: areas of insecurity and instability that confirm the failure of our policies.
This article was first published in Spanish in El Mundo.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.