Debates on Europe VI-X

Sarajevo Debate on Europe

26.4. - 27.4.2017

Twentyfive years ago, in 1992, the Maastricht Treaty was signed: Twelve member states joined to form the European Union, an important step towards European integration. Also in 1992 the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina began, an event which marked the final disintegration of Yugoslavia. A short time ago the dissolving of the so-called Eastern Bloc had removed the cold war border that had cut through Germany and the whole subcontinent for so long. A new reality seemed to dawn. Excepting the inhabitants of the Balkan countries most people in East and West thought a Europe of peace, prosperity and democratic freedom immanent.

Today, in 2017, these earlier certainties and hopes seem highly questionable. Hardly a country is without its fierce debate about the desirability of membership within the European Union. The utopian hope for an open European community seems to have evaporated leaving behind a space apparently threatened from within and without; the very project of a common Europe is questioned. In many of these controversial discussions “identity” has become a key word. “Identity”, in ist populist version reduced to something held to be singular (historically, culturally, confessionly), feigns a safe special position to withdraw to. The democracies of Europe face these challenges under widely differing circumstances, but the challenge in every case wants to suvbvert the hopes once connected with the European project: hopes for a manifold unity.

The “Sarajevo Debate on Europe” offers a space to discuss questions about the difficulties and chances of the European project, in an open exchange of views. Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, seems an especially apt place for this discussion about the coexistence of religious, cultural and national identities, about the handling of conflicts and the role of influences from abroad. Participating will be authors and scientists from several European countries.

The meeting is part of the continuing series “Debates on Europe” organized since 2012 by the S. Fischer Stiftung, the Allianz Kulturstiftung and the Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung in different cities across the continent: so far in Budapest, Bukarest, Athens, Belgrade, Berlin, Narva, Minsk, Charkiv and St. Petersburg.

Marie-Janine Calic
European strategies of expanding spheres of influence

For more than a decade, the EU membership perspective has been the most powerful political asset to enhance stability and good-neighbourly relations in the Western Balkans: It has worked as a carrot to initiate and sustain reforms; it represented a framework for conflict settlement; and an effective incentive to improve regional co-operation. ´Europeanization´ has been understood as promoting genuine European values that lay at the core of the European integration project: the respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Member states are also expected to share the commitment to pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men.

Since 1999, the so-called European perspective (enlargement policy) served as the primary EU policy tool towards the Western Balkans in order to promote ´Europeanization´. But granting the Western Balkan states the perspective of full membership was only the result of a painful learning process. During the course of the war and in light of massive human rights violations member states understood that developments in the EU´s South-eastern neighbourhood represented a threat to their vital interests: peace and stability; European values, but also economic and institutional interests.

Bosnia and Herzegovina teaches the lesson that the European perspective in itself does not guarantee an appropriate reform process. Conditionality has in a way supported state building efforts, but institutional building and democratization are moving slowly. Some of the instruments applied had mixed results. E.g., Autonomous Trade Preferences granted by the EU have had a minor effect on increasing exports from the region, but instead helped increasing imports from the EU to the Western Balkans, making the EU the primary beneficiary of trade liberalisation.

Recent events – the crisis in Ukraine, the Greek economic crisis, the Brexit, and the non-handling of the refugee crisis – question the role and the ability of the EU to bring about peace, democracy and welfare to its neighboring countries. The EU has even been seen as an importer of instability and new challenges to the region, in particular through “contagion” by the Greek crisis, non-resolution of the refugee crisis. In addition, political developments in member countries (Hungary, Poland) seem to seriously undermine the very basis of the EU´s normative framework. Both within and outside the Union Euroscepticism is growing.

What ´Europeanization´ shall mean under these circumstances needs to be discussed anew. And yet, there seems to be no viable alternative to the Western Balkans eventually becoming full members of the European Union.