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Strong identities and European vocation. The Balkans “believe” in the EU

Past historical developments have left a deep mark on this region of the Old Continent, which overcame foreign occupations and dictatorships, and is now trying to make up for the lost time. Democracy and development strive to gain grounds, while the youths emigrate. Nonetheless there is a growing need to recover, coupled by widespread support to Community integration. Will EU28, faced with internal challenges, manage to devote to the Balkans the attention they rightly deserve?

It is a known fact that the Balkan region is a melting pot of diversity; a veritable mosaic, a mix-match of stories, banners, cultures and languages, which strives to come together as one. The very religious presence is characterised by the coexistence – albeit not always pacified and “ecumenical” – of Orthodox, Catholics (from different rites), and Muslims. Past differences still drag on, notably after the implosion of Tito’s Yugoslavia, on the political, economic and social fronts. Nonetheless at a closer glance, delving into the daily, multifarious Balkan reality, a set of recurring features emerge throughout the various Countries, namely Croatia, Slovenia (EU member Countries), Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, with further “addendums” in the bordering Bulgaria and Greece.

The above-mentioned “points of contact” could be summarised as follows:

Strong identities – local and national alike – often in conflict with each other; growing economic development which remains contained as a whole; migratory trends (owing to economies with low employment rates and poor opportunities for youths); unstable democracies not always capable of ensuring efficient and transparent public administration, equality before the Law, the universal guarantee of individual and social rights. There are other two equally shared, positive features that ought to be highlighted (brought to the fore during a recent international conference organized by the Christian Workers’ Movement in the capital of Macedonia, on the theme “The problems of immigration and the new European social cohesion policies”).

First of all, there is a lively social fabric longing for recovery, wellbeing, order and transparency.

This is equally true in Sarajevo, in Belgrade, in Skopje and in Tirana, all marked by the need to make up for the time lost under the rule of foreign invaders or dictatorships in recent years. Youths are fleeing to Western Europe but when asked they share their hopes to remain in their homeland to which they feel closely bound, to have a family, build a home, earn a living and restore the European stature of their home Country, as they learned in their history books.

Secondly, a strong Europeanist wind blows throughout the Balkan region.

Governments and public opinion majority believe in the European project, which they consider a strong anchor to democracy and development. Unlike those Countries that already form part of the EU, the Balkans knock on its doors hoping to become its members and reap its benefits, equally determined to contribute to the “common home” with their rich history, identity, enthusiasm, and Europeanist thrust. Hence on this side of the Continent is it advisable to approach the Balkan Countries and peoples with greater openness and care. The relations that EU28 established with those Countries, in the framework of the EU adhesion process, should measure – as “an added immaterial value” – such pro-European enthusiasm characterising the south-eastern part of the Continent, thereby supporting it and channelling it into reforms that may allow those Countries to proceed towards full compliance with the “Copenhagen criteria” requested to candidate countries entering the EU. The EU’s enlargement towards the Balkans – to be completed within a reasonable timeframe – could in fact

Lead to the establishment of a stable, economically sound neighbourhood:

such guarantees contribute to preventing conflicts at the EU’s doors as well as migration flows into the EU. Moreover, the ensuing adhesion of Balkan Countries would further the creation of a “bridge” with Turkey, the Middle East and Asia, as well as with the Islamic world. A bridge which today’s Community Europe is expected to feel the compelling, urgent need for, for a wide set of reasons.

 

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