The United States of Europe was a very good idea that seemed to be the only way out for some people, some countries and some minorities. But I unfortunately no longer share that view. The turnabout came when the EU introduced a visa liberalization program for a select few countries in the Western Balkans.
Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, newly independent countries (although more than a decade has passed since their de facto independence, this is a short period for a country) and full of energetic youth, have something else in common: the hope of integrating into the EU as the only way out of resolving historical ethnic conflicts. Include here Albania, which has been scattered by instability and sees the EU as the only way of using its young and dynamic population’s potential. This group was left out of the visa liberation program, drowning the hopes of millions for a better future. These three countries have one more thing in common, but let’s leave that aside for a moment.
The only solution for the Western Balkans is integration in the EU. This is because the Western Balkans are a powder keg and the motherland of interethnic conflict, but they are also unique and very different from other regions of the world. Ethnicities living in those countries, including Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Macedonia, don’t have problems with their neighbors in these countries; the problems arises when other governments in the region, such as the Belgrade government, intervene and get involved in Bosnia and Herzegovina or in Kosovo.
Another problem is the governing elite of these countries. A Macedonian does not have a problem with his Albanian neighbor, but problems arise when politics get involved, as the government cannot satisfy everyone. A Serbian in Kosovo does not have a problem with an Albanian in Kosovo, and vice versa, but problems arise when governing the territory is in question, the way the government in Kosovo works and when the Belgrade government gets involved. So, the EU is the only way in which the people will look at their personal views, rather than ethnic, hateful inspirations. This is why most of the youth in these countries, in Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Serbia and so on, have oftentimes declared that their hope is in the EU, not local politics. By integrating all these countries in the EU, or at least in the visa liberalization program, interethnic conflict will drop to a minimum and disappear in due time.
I am of the opinion that European Union decision-makers and the European Parliament share my view, but I do not understand the logic of integrating the visa liberalization program only in Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro. Not that this is a bad idea, but leaving aside the countries that need this most cannot be understood. Many claim that this division, or discrimination, happened because of the fear that EU countries might have in having to deal with a high influx of migrants. Although this fear does exist and may be well founded, there is no guarantee that such an influx will not happen from Macedonia, Serbia or Montenegro. Now that the summer is approaching, we have to wait and see. Migrants from the Balkans only migrate because of bad economic conditions, and I believe that when economic opportunities increase in these countries, no one will want to leave; in fact, most migrants will want to go back. This is because the people of the Balkans are in many ways different from West Europeans, and when they are out of the Balkans, they look forward to coming back home.
Criteria for discrimination
If we have a close look at the countries that are being discriminated against by this program -- Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina -- then we see that the one thing they have in common, and share with the longest negotiator for accession, Turkey, is that the majority of their population is Muslim. Having such a picture before us, it is very difficult to state that there is no discrimination in the EU against countries with a Muslim majority. Countries integrated into the EU and those party to a visa liberalization program all have a Christian majority. Although Muslims in the three countries being discriminated against are primarily non-practicing, the cost of this identity is their freedom of movement. The EU has its biggest mission in Kosovo, which is in a way governed by the EU. So what is the idea behind this discrimination?
There are two things at play here. First, the EU is not sure about the success or failure of its own mission. Second, the EU is a Christian club. Even if the second may not be the case, EU decision-makers have to be much more careful about this move so as not to give such an impression, but if they wanted to give such an impression openly, they have found the best way. Include here the Turkish negotiations for accession and the picture is complete: What we have is the EU Christian Club (EUCC) and the others.
What happened with this act is that Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina have been ghettoized. This has made the EU an enzyme for interethnic conflict because the people have nothing else to expect now that having an EU card is no longer possible. In the Balkans, ethnic hatred is on the rise, coming from economic problems. If a small conflict starts, no one can say a bigger, all-encompassing conflict in the region is inevitable. With the rise of nationalism among EU member states, the risk of a European conflict is high. What the EU has done to these three countries is force them to be ghettoes on their own land and opened a way for mafia/crime-related groups to continue their activities.
The group that suffers most from this ghettoization is the youth. Being the youngest countries in Europe, they have high numbers of youngsters who need to be integrated into the production and work force. Failing to do this, they will integrate into the crime force. Students and academics, for example, need to travel, to go to conferences, see Europe, but they are demoralized by this act of not including these countries in the visa liberalization program. The best thing that can be taken from these poor countries is the capacity of their youth. But restricting their development with the visa regime is killing their production capacity.
The EU dream
The EU was a dream of unity and living together. With the rise of nationalism and nationalistic parties in EU member states, with the rise of discrimination against countries with a different heritage from their own, and with the economic problems it is facing, this dream might turn into a nightmare. It is impossible to consider the exclusion of Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the non-accession of Turkey a coincidence. It is now much more difficult to explain that the EU is not a Christian club. This fact serves best the parties in these four countries that claim EU integration is a bad idea and that the EU just wants to use these countries.
If we look at polls conducted among the populations of these countries, the rise in anti-EU feelings among the people in Turkey is at its peak. Furthermore, this rise is observable in Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina because the people do not believe the EU is being sincere. Students, academics, producers and average citizens suffer most while ill-minded people (the criminals) get the most out of this all.
The EU must do something new to ensure its own survival and unity in general. The diversity seen in the EU gives it its strength, and the exclusion of all Muslim-majority countries in the Western Balkans from the visa liberalization program is the worst black spot on the EU’s image. It must be treated before it grows to be a cancer. The EU has run into problems in trying to integrate Muslim citizens living in its member countries. Before this begins to be a bigger problem, the EU needs to firmly stand against religious discrimination. The equation is simple: If you integrate a Muslim majority country, you can integrate all the Muslims in the EU. But if you discriminate against all Muslim majority countries on the continent of Europe, you will not be able to integrate the Muslims in the EU, and there will always be a societal problem.
The biggest problems in the EU today are the trafficking of persons, drugs smuggling, illegal arms, illegal migration and an underground economy. These crime routes all pass through the above-mentioned countries. So, by controlling these routes, you can put an end to them. Without integrating these countries, it is very difficult for the EU to cope with these problems. Discriminating against them further bares the risk of further ethnic conflict in the region, and this might mean the end of the dream of a United States of Europe.
*Erdoan A. Shipoli is a graduate student in international relations at Fatih University, focusing on security studies.