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Sunday, 21 April 2013 22:58

Serbia on the Road to EU Accession?

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After ten rounds of negotiations and near failure, Serbia and Kosovo have agreed a pact that opens up the path for Serbia's languishing EU accession. The constellation of events that led to the announcement of the pact on April 19th, including discussions with Russia, has brought this historic agreement about. Yet, while the ground has been laid for Serbia, it is only the first of many steps on the path towards EU membership.

The clear political stumbling block between Serbia and the European Union is the recognition of Kosovo's sovereignty. Having accepted changes in the governing of northern Kosovo, most notably giving the “Association/Community” “full overview of the areas of economic development, education, health, urban and rural planning”, Serbia is not close to making a full recognition.

A historical agreement with limitations

The signing of a 15 point agreement between Serbia and Kosovo constitutes a major success for High Representative Catherine Ashton, both for the stability in the Balkans region and unlocking the potential for Serbia and Kosovo's entry into the EU. The two parties, torn apart in Kosovo's war of independence in 2008, have reached an accord that recognises Kosovo's right to be governed by local independent statue, whilst giving Serbs in northern Kosovo their own police force and appeals court. However, far from being the end of the story, the agreement has created the space for normalisation to emerge, rather than sealed the relations between the two states.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013 01:24

Enlargement to Retrenchment: EU budget and the East

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Behind the headline cuts in the European Union’s 2014-2020 Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF), lies a new EU retrenchment policy on its eastern borders. The protection of EU Structural and Cohesion funds to the European Union and the gutting of the “Global Europe” spending ceiling, within which the commitments to the Eastern Partnership initiative are housed, demonstrates the increasing disinterest the EU has to further enlargement. Whilst the actual impact on Eastern development is not yet clear, mixed success in promoting democracy and development over the last year does not bode well for continued enlargement.

Budget winners and losers

Whilst newspapers focused on David Cameron's calls for a real terms cut in the headline budget, there was a groundswell movement in favour of promoting long-term growth through investment across the European Union, particularly in the East. The subsequent agreement has initiated a scramble for funds within an overarching cut of the budget to the sum of 969 billion euros. Central Eastern Europe fared well and in particular, Poland, which led the so-called Friends of Cohesion Policy, can claim to have won this round.

Despite weathering the economic downturn better than a number of Western European states, Poland will now receive more EU investment than under the previous budget – 105.8 billion euros, of which 72.9 billion euros was from the cohesion policy. As Polish Prime Minister Tusk publicly stated before the Summit: “Good Polish-German and Polish-French relations are really helping to get a compromise… [and] not less for cohesion funds.” He was proven to be correct and the overall commitment ceiling of 325 billion euros gave Poland, along with Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Romania, increases in its national cohesion funding.

Friday, 25 January 2013 08:28

New Immigration Flows, Old Stereotypes

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The final transitional immigration controls on Romania and Bulgaria are set to expire in January 2014, seven years after these new Eastern Europeans became citizens of the European Union. In the United Kingdom, parallels are already being drawn with the 2004 “wave” of immigration, when Poland and the other A8 countries gained the rights to travel and work throughout the EU. However, the main “pull” factors of immigration, which include employment opportunities, relative gross national interest per capita (GNI per capita) and comparative opportunities across the EU, all suggest that the immigration flow from Romania and Bulgaria will not only be significantly smaller than 2004 levels, but will also be more diffuse throughout EU member states.

2004 reappraised

A recently released study by Oxford University's Migration Observatory has drawn out the long-term impact of A8 immigration on the UK, placing the “tsunami” effect into a broader context. Estimations made in 2004 predicted 15,000 people per year would move from the new EU member states to the UK. The average annual Long-Term International Migration inflow of EU citizens was, in fact, increased to around 170,000 in the period 2004-2010, in comparison to the 67,000 over the previous six years. As a percentage of EU citizens, the A8 immigrants accounted for around 50 per cent of that movement, meaning that Eastern Europeans made up only one-third of the total migrant inflow into the UK. Nevertheless, the failure to anticipate the impact of lifting these restrictions left a deep mark in the political landscape of the UK.

The negative framing of Eastern European immigration has returned [as] an endless stream of "benefit tourists".

The negative framing of Eastern European immigration has returned in the form of an endless stream of unskilled and unemployed “benefit tourists”. It may be narrow politicking but the image has maintained its potency. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) now displays a countdown clock on their website for when, as The Telegraph has also warned, “Twenty million Bulgarians and Romanians will gain the right to live and work unrestricted in Britain.” Research by the Open Society in Sofia actually suggests that the inflow of Bulgarian immigrants would be “far less significant in volume and it is less likely.... [to] cause labour market disruption” than the A8 access.

Sunday, 09 December 2012 22:14

The Politics of Perceiving Corruption

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The latest Corruption Perceptions index by Transparency International (TI) brings into question the description of the European Union's role, often told in dialectic terms, of the transformation of Eastern Europe from a web of Soviet satellites to European states. Whilst levels of perceived corruption in Eastern Europe have remained steady compared with three years ago, and admittedly in some cases improved for those states belonging to the EU, they have also plummeted in those “Western” countries most affected by the euro crisis. The public narrative of corruption would do well then, to shift from a primary reliance on historical cultural explanations embedded in the European Union, and focus more on the particular socio-economic conditions at hand.

The comparative view

The headlines on this year's World Anti-Corruption Day (December 9th 2012) focused almost exclusively on the plight of Italy and Greece. The TI's report, based on averaging a range of independent institutional assessments of transparency and accountability, and therefore a “perception” of corruption, rather than a quantitative assessment of this opaque area found Greece to be languishing globally in 92nd place. Greece was not only at the bottom of Western and Central Europe's rankings but well below a number of post-Soviet states, including Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Poland, for levels of its political and economic corruption.

The logic of an EU leading members on a steady path to Nordic levels of transparency... is sharply undone.

In sharp contrast, a number of post-Soviet states in Europe are slowly, steadily progressing in terms of holding their institutions accountable. Whilst notably behind traditional Western and Nordic countries, Hungary and Poland both improved their rankings, receiving over 50 out of 100 points from across 10 institutional surveys each. Slovenia and Estonia also featured in the top 20 of European countries too. This analysis does not forget that there are notable criticisms to be levelled at Hungary in particular, most notably Victor Orban's assault on the independence of the Hungarian media, the central bank and judiciary independence, but suggests that a comparative view leads to the conclusion that behind the headlines there are moderate improvements to be noted in the conduct of the Eastern European public sphere.

NEXT ISSUE 01.10.2017