In 2011, the EU made progress in enlargement despite the euro crisis. However, in 2012, the EU’s power in the Wider Europe was diluted, not just because the EU remains focused on the crisis but also because the emergence of a multi-tier Europe is in effect downgrading the value of membership of the EU. The recession in the EU – a key trading partner for all Western Balkan countries – has also hit local economies hard by depressing demand for exports and reducing FDI. Even the star performer in the Western Balkans, Croatia, is beset by negative growth for a fourth consecutive year. In other words, the EU is now exporting the crisis to its already-troubled periphery and this is to some extent undercutting its policy in the region.
That is not to say that the story of enlargement is over. The Western Balkans still see membership as a strategic goal: Croatia is expected to become the twenty-eighth member of the EU in 2013; Montenegro started accession negotiations; Serbia became a candidate in March; and even Kosovo, unrecognised by five EU member states, edged closer to signing a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU. This progress was the result of efforts by key member states such as Austria, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the Visegrad quartet and by the European Commission and the EEAS. Thanks to the EEAS’s mediation efforts, Prishtina and Belgrade reached a key agreement with High Representative Catherine Ashton hosting unprecedented meetings between the two prime ministers, Ivica Dačić of Serbia and Hashim Thaçi of Kosovo, in October–December.
However, the EU struggled to impose itself in a stagnant Western Balkans. In May, Boris Tadić lost the presidential election in Serbia; it is unclear how far his successor, former paramilitary fighter Tomislav Nikolić, will work with the post-Milošević socialists to press ahead with reconciliation with Serbia’s neighbours. Pushing for democratisation and improved governance standards is a formidable challenge for the EU when there is a deficit of political will on the other side. Brussels has no choice but to deal with local leaders such as Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who polarise public opinion and are accused of power grabbing.
It was also a difficult year for the EU in relation to Turkey. The election of François Hollande as French president led to cautious optimism that 2012 might see an upturn in stalled relations. In May, the European Commission launched a Positive Agenda intended to sustain harmonisation with the acquis under policy chapters that have been frozen because of the lack of progress in Cyprus or French opposition to Turkish membership. But the mere fact that Hollande has not yet lifted any of the vetoes suggests that hopes are premature and an opening is not in sight. Equally, Turkey has not made moves to implement the 2004 Ankara Protocol, which would unblock a host of chapters and revive the talks. On the brighter side, the European Council agreed a roadmap for visa liberalisation with Turkey in November. The Cypriot presidency of the European Council in the second half of the year was not accompanied by a major crisis in bilateral relations, as some feared..
In 2012, Turkey was preoccupied not by EU membership but by domestic affairs and the situation in Syria, where the civil war has led to more than 100,000 refugees flocking into Turkish border towns and created new challenges on the Kurdish issue and political tensions within Turkey as well as with Iran and Russia. Despite the ongoing dialogue between the Turkish foreign ministry and the EEAS, NATO and the US have been its partners of choice in dealing with challenges in the neighbourhood, notably Syria. But European diplomats were unhappy with the Turkish government’s exclusive backing for the Muslim Brotherhood and its alignment with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. On the other hand, Turkey continued to be a valuable intermediary between the EU and Iran, hosting the E3+3 talks on the nuclear dossier in July.
In the Eastern Partnership region, in 2012 there was progress with Moldova and Georgia. Moldova advanced its reforms and relations with the EU to the point that both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso began to talk openly about the country’s European perspective – something that would have been inconceivable just a few years ago. Georgia, meanwhile, went through the first peaceful transition of power in its modern history, despite the fact that the highly polarised election campaign led many to worry about possible instability. Georgia seems to be continuing to move towards democracy – albeit in a zigzag.
On the other hand, there was little progress in relation to Ukraine – the biggest and most important country in the Eastern Partnership region. The government avoided launching any painful reforms ahead of the October parliamentary elections, which fell short of democratic standards. The lack of reform means there has been little progress in Kyiv’s relations with the EU: although negotiations for the Association Agreement and DCFTA were concluded, a number of member states are unwilling to sign and ratify the documents. The failure by member states to coordinate their approach to the European football championship, which was held in Poland and Ukraine in May and June 2012, illustrated European divisions on Ukraine.
The situation in Azerbaijan and Belarus remained unchanged: the EU was unable to push the governments of the two countries – both serious human-rights violators – towards political liberalisation. In the case of Belarus, EU member states remained united and adopted a series of visa bans and asset freezes on more than 240 individuals and companies linked to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime. However, there is no such consensus about Azerbaijan: President Ilham Aliyev’s regime has been effective in playing divide and rule among Europeans. There was little progress on protracted conflicts in 2012: the 5+2 talks on Transnistria were formally re-launched but there was no breakthrough. As elsewhere in the Wider Europe, the EU lacked resources, consensus and, perhaps most importantly, partners in Eastern Europe.
|39 - Overall progress of enlargement in the Western Balkans||4/5||4/5||6/10||14/20||B+|
|40 - Rule of law, democracy and human rights in the Western Balkans||4/5||3/5||5/10||12/20||B-|
|41 - Kosovo||4/5||4/5||8/10||16/20||A-|
|42 - Bosnia and Herzegovina||3/5||3/5||2/10||8/20||C|
|43 - Bilateral relations with Turkey||3/5||3/5||2/10||7/20||C-|
|44 - Rule of law, democracy and human rights in Turkey||3/5||2/5||2/10||7/20||C-|
|45 - Relations with Turkey on the Cyprus question||3/5||2/5||2/10||7/20||C-|
|46 - Relations with Turkey on regional issues||4/5||3/5||4/10||11/20||B-|
|47 - Rule of law, democracy and human rights in the Eastern Neighbourhood||3/5||4/5||1/10||8/20||C|
|48 - Relations with the Eastern Neighbourhood on trade||4/5||5/5||7/10||16/20||A-|
|49 - Relations with the Eastern Neighbourhood on energy||2/5||2/5||3/10||8/20||C|
|50 - Visa liberalisation with the Eastern Neighbourhood||3/5||3/5||5/10||11/20||B-|
|51 - Relations with the Eastern Neighbourhood on the protracted conflicts||4/5||2/5||3/10||9/20||C+|