European Prospects of the Western Balkans
European leaders promised the Western Balkan states during the EU summit in Thessaloniki in June 2003 that their future was within the united Europe, and that each of them could prospectively become an EU member. But judging by the actual steps taken by Brussels, the EU does not intend to proceed with true integration of the region in the nearest future. No road map for negotiations was proposed in Thessaloniki, and neither was even a tentative accession date stated, although leaders of the Balkan five had asked for this in a joint statement. The SAP, a special association procedure developed specifically for the integration of the Western Balkan states, may even lead to a "freezing" of the Balkan countries' integration at the initial level. The same applies to the unclear position of these states in the EU foreign policy instruments now being developed (Wider Europe, New Neighbourhood Instrument). The situation looks even worse in economic terms. The volume of funds provided to the Western Balkans from the EU budget has been decreasing for several years, and will continue to decrease unless the EU alters its policy. At the same time, substantially larger amounts of funds are provided to neighbours of the region, i.e. the acceding Slovenia and Hungary, and Bulgaria and Romania - recipients of pre-accession aid. This may deepen the civilisational gap between the region and its neighbours, stall economic growth in the Western Balkans, and undermine the Balkan societies' confidence in European institutions. As a result, populist parties with anti-EU programmes (extreme nationalist groups in most cases) may win over a portion of the Western Balkans' electorate. If Europe fails to take decisive measures to truly integrate the Western Balkans, the region, released from the spiral of ethnic conflicts by the international community's effort (the EU institutions and funds playing a major role), may slip into another crisis, this time civilisational in nature, and lose all chances of integration with Europe in the foreseeable future.