By Hannes Swoboda
European unification to overcame conflicts and wars
The EU has from the beginning been founded on normative ideas and orientations. To overcome conflicts and wars was the basic aim of European unification. It was and is not a re-unification as it was never united, beyond some peaceful and some forceful efforts to do it - the last one by Hitler's aggression against all German neighbors and beyond. Instead of wars and domination by a few, compromises by including all should prevail in the new Europa.
This normative orientation was overshadowed by perceiving Europe as a big and growing market place. The economic instruments which were used to construct the common Europe were seen as an aim as such. Especially during the phase of extreme liberalization the economic orientation dominated all other issues, also according to Clinton's statement: "Its the economy, stupid." And many politicians and entrepreneurs wanted deliberately to underline the economic side of the European unification process. But it is not only the economy and anyway not only market economy - Europe is about much moreIn the area of economic predominance, the social and ecological but also the cultural aspects of personal and community life have been strongly neglected - especially in the public perception. And that gave rise to those, who have given the "identity question" highest priority. The identity issue has been used to enhance one group against the other, especially the "true" nationals against the foreigners, migrants, refugees. Political forces of the extreme right promoted a clear division between "us" and "them". And it was also a way to discriminate against the "others", even if they were and are already national citizens.
The establishment of right wing populists was enhanced by the breakdown of ideologies and class consciousness. As one participant at the Zagreb meeting expressed it clearly: the old capitalism created classes and their common consciousness, but the new, financial capitalism destroyed classes and its common attitudes. And in the mean time, the newest, digital forms of capitalism destroyed even more communities and their feelings of togetherness and created the flexible and very often isolated men and women. We should not bow before these developments and accept them as inevitable. We should not accept the concept of the fragmented, isolated and vulnerable economic man in a divided and discriminatory society but insist on civil rights in a society of equals and with equal rights.
Charter of fundamental rights
Already in times of this rising neo-liberal and right wing tendencies the EU - with much resistance - elaborated its Charter of Fundamental Rights. Just to mention a few of its enhanced rights:
Respect for his/her private life and communication
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
Freedom of arts and science
Respect for cultural, religious, linguistic diversity
Right of asylum with respect to the Geneva convention
Right to fair trial
These fundamental rights and the respective obligations of national - and of course EU -authorities must stay as a basis for the existence and development of the EU. The fact, that also inside the EU several member countries violate these rights is not justifying to forget them all together. It may even strengthen the argument for respecting these rights also by the candidates who are eager to join the EU. The EU does not need a further undermining of its "value base" by newcomers who are not accepting and implementing the fundamental rights included in the European Charter.
In this respect it is interesting to see, that those forces inside the EU, especially in the West, who are on the extreme right are not eager at all to accept new members from the Western Balkans. This is a right wing movement of "white" nationalists who are not interested in weakening their nationalistic and anti-immigration position by inviting Balkan countries - with their mixed and partly Muslim population - to join. The exception is the close relationship of FPÖ with Serbian nationalists. Already this discriminatory attitude of the right forces inside the EU should be a warning signals to Nationalists in South Eastern Europe (SEE), but also in Turkey.
A special issue is the demand from the side of the EU to solve all regional conflicts before accession. This demand was not expressed before other rounds of accession. It may be interpreted as a means to postpone membership or can be seen as an incentive/enforcement to do the job in right time. Even if this obligation to good neighborhood is not mentioned in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, it is a consequence of Europe's bad experience over centuries. Good neighborhood can also be subsumed under the respects for "others" demanded by the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The misuse of history in order to whitewash own mistakes and put the blame totally on the "other" side is a trick by nationalists to gain influence and power. It creates new splits and cleavages inside countries and between countries. It justifies crimes - if done by the right side and oneself is always on the right side. Therefore education and educational systems which are conducive to confront students with different sides of historical events and developments are important to prepare the new generations with attitudes for compromise. That is an important demand to the educational system - everywhere.
A common - labour - market for EU and SEE
To put the normative side in front of looking at the Western Balkans must not neglect the economic and social side. In fact the economic development of the countries of South East Europe is characterized by strong relations with the EU member countries, especially with Austria, Germany, Italy and immediate neighbors. This relationship is also strengthened by migration links. Insofar the countries of the Western Balkans are part of an emigration pattern together with the Central European EU member countries.
In a recent study by the Vienna Institute for International Economics the conclusion is: "Demographic developments in the CEECs and the Western Balkans are particularly worrying. On average, the population in the region shrank by around 5% between 2000 and 2016, but in some countries as much as 10% to 20%."
Migration to EU member countries are an important contribution to economic growth in these countries in spite of complaints about immigration of cheap labour, which are enforced by fake news by the right wing in immigration countries. As these migrants are often of a high eduction and qualification, they are often missing in their home countries. Consequently, emigration is in an increasing number of cases combined with lack of qualified labour in countries of emigration.
These demographic facts should lead to a common policy concerning the economic future of our continent, at least member countries, candidate and potential candidate countries. These demographics which are weakening Europe's economic power and the rising competition from the US to China should lead to joint policies which should overcome ideological barriers against immigration. Even with different levels of economic activities today, the future will demand more common policies.
Another study by the Vienna Institute shows, that the immigration into EU countries (internal migration and from Balkan countries) will not grow much in the future, as migration contributed to demographic stagnation and lack of labour in emigration countries. The time may come, when we all are confronted by lack of qualified labour and must look to countries outside Europe - depending on digitalization, automation and artificial intelligence.
Overall the recent forecast done by the Vienna Institute reiterates: "Regionally, the main challenges are increasingly severe labour shortages, the impact of global developments on confidence, and the potential for lower EU funds inflows. Authoritarianism, state capture and interference in the independence of institutions are all on the rise, creating significant risks for growth in the medium and long term."
EU and SEE - an extended partnership leading to accession needed
Developments between different European states and regions, languages and religions cannot be overcome in short times. They should also reflect the concept of diversity as far as they do not prevent processes of integration and unification. The European dimension should add value and opportunities to the existing national and communal characters and possibilities.
Therefore, accession to the European Union is and should be much more a process. The formal entry date should not be the beginning of the "real" integration. During all the years of so-called negotiations or better preparations for the "time after" we should see a process of continuous transformation and gliding into membership.
From the beginning the enlargement and accession procedures must be a "coworking" process.
The candidates and potential candidate should be invited to be part of the processes which would lead to a variety of decisions, which finally have to be taken by the members proper. But the involvement of the SEE states from the beginning of considering legislation and other decisions would be the best preparation of future and full membership and it would be an important learning process for "both" sides. It would be also a clear signal to citizens inside and leaders outside where the "journey" would go to - if this is the willingness of major national leaders. It should prevent or destroy uncertainties and ambiguities about the course of development the leading forces of the countries in SEE want to promote.
The EU and and the countries of the Western Balkans should not only think about and prepare the common enlarged EU. There are many issues they should deal with together as partners already now!
One example is security. Many citizens feel themselves threatened by different forms of insecurity from military to terrorist threats. There is also fear about an "overflow" of refugees which would rob citizens from their "feeling at home". This would be an important field of strong cooperation. It would especially reduce fear of many EU citizens from enlargement. Marilena Koppa and myself developed already in a paper which was also published by the European Council for Foreign Affairs (ECFR) a concept for such a EU-Western Balkan Security Community.
Europe is in strong competition with the US, Russia and especially China. This is not only an economic issue but different concepts how to organize society and protect fundamental rights are competing with each other. In connection with protection of privacy the EU has to develop a specific policy towards the digital companies which more and more are intruding into our daily life and trying to manipulate our decisions - also in elections.
We Europeans should look for good relations with the big powers of this world. But we should be determined to prevent the US, Russia or China to become "European powers" who have a decisive say in our own development. It is strange, that these powers would never be ready to accept such a European interference into their "business" as many of Europeans are ready to accept their interference into EU affairs. Some governments are even inviting the Chinese to play an important economic and political role. Recently Italy joined the countries of the 16 plus 1 initiative dominated by China. Europe, whose population is more and more shrinking as percentage of world population needs more power and determination to defend its values and interests. And that means further integration and cooperation in vital issues.
We all have to redesign our economic and social system. And that cannot be done in continuing or even enforcing the neo-liberal model. The financial crisis, but also the different protests against the neglect of social issues give a clear direction of the necessary reforms. We need a new balance of private and public services. Public or non for profit economic activities have been underestimated and undervalued also inside the European Union and many member states but also in South Eastern Europe.
What is important is to have more public engagement without the deconstruction of democracy and the introduction of "illiberal democracies" à la Orban. As an empirical study from Serbia showed, many people are accepting the concept of illiberal democracy, even defending the neo-liberal economy but at the same time demanding a stronger redistribution. (see the tableau). What should be designed is a sound mixture of private and public economic activities combined with policies of redistribution and a sufficient offer of public services from health to education and to social housing etc. And that should be done on the basis of democracy with all the freedoms and rights included in the Charter of fundamental rights.
The mixture of liberal economic policies and illiberal - and that means limited - forms of democracy cannot be found only in the Western Balkans. But together the progressive forced should design a concept for an inclusive society which is involving all members of our societies. We need political structures of combining an efficient private economy with targeted state intervention for the socially needed - without discrimination - and a lively democracy. This is the only alternative to the right wing concept of splitting the society in good and bad, into true citizens and parasites who want to misuse the social services.
An important element of our redesign must be how we look at our environment and the climate issue. We need decisive steps towards decarbonization of our economies - production and consumption. Noticing, that climate changes are particularly affecting poorer countries in Africa and Asia we have also to redesign the development cooperation.
The new economic and social European model of course must also define the role of migration inside Europe (EU and its partners) and from outside Europe. The needs of the economies - depending on implementation of automatization and Artificial Intelligence - must be confronted with perceptions and attitudes of the society at large.
We need an innovative approach
There are many important issues where the EU and countries of the region can and must cooperate and find common ways independently of when they join the EU. What is important is to recognize, that there exist enough characteristics and special features, which are defining what we can call "European". This kind of Europe must include the EU and SEE and the respective individual countries. We cannot wait for formal accession. We must act now.
We must act as governments and parliamentarians, but also as civil organizations who are eager to defend and develop the model of European society at large. Meeting and cooperating in some multinational organizations like OSCE, OECD and the UN is not enough. The EU and SEE countries must develop stronger formal and organizational cooperations to strengthen Europe even before the enlargement of the EU can be completed. This is also necessary for civil society and especially academic institutions. Today especially they are threatened by right wing and nationalistic policies and ideologies and the strong men, relying on these forces.