WITHIN the last couple of months we have taken important steps forward in relation to the EU enlargement processes in the Balkans and this is immensely important. It is an important priority of the Danish EU Presidency to create positive momentum in the Balkans. I want to highlight especially the significance of Serbia’s achievement of candidate country status at the beginning of March. This followed after it became possible to establish concrete and important agreements within the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. Thus, an entirely new foundation for progress on one of the most difficult issues in the Balkans has been laid. The cooperation and dialogue of the EU with the countries involved is a defining element in these developments.
First it was six. Then we were nine. We have been ten, twelve and fifteen. Ten years ago we became twenty-five, and today we are twenty-seven. Next year we will be twenty-eight. And more are standing in line. The EU still continues to grow.
When the EU, during the Danish EU Presidency ten years ago, undertook the big enlargement into central and eastern Europe, we could really feel the presence of history: finally a divided Europe was reunited! Today it is not quite like that. It has become everyday life again. And one even characterised by economic crisis and limited resources.
Why then should the EU be enlarged further? Do we not have enough problems? Should we not instead concentrate on getting things under control and getting the economy rolling? Yes, we have to do that too. However, the enlargements actually make the EU stronger – both internally and externally. It is the enlargements which have created the world’s biggest domestic market.
Denmark’s inter-state trade has, with each round of enlargement, been strengthened. Simply put, enlargement is good business – both for the new and the established member states. At the same time, the enlargements have embedded European values such as democracy, protection of minorities and cooperation in all member states. And the enlargements have meant that the influence of the EU in the world has increased. Union is strength – because we are capable of doing more together than individually.
The countries which are on the verge of becoming new members – Iceland and Serbia – can be found on the shores of the North Atlantic and in the Balkans.
Denmark has a common history with Iceland and we know the country well. It is a modern democracy with strong roots, a Nordic welfare society with a high level of education and is a front-runner in regards to green technology, which can contribute innovative answers to the challenges of the future. It is also a country which, in the middle of an economic collapse, realised that it needed to be a part of a community which could ensure stable conditions.
By contrast, many people probably connect Serbia with the wars in the former Yugoslavia. However, the Serbia to which the EU has now granted candidate status is a different Serbia than the one we remember. A Serbia which has come to terms with its past, and which has a burning desire to enter into the European community with the hopes of growth, employment, peace and security it provides.
Both countries have acknowledged that membership is not only about increased inter-state trade and more stable economic framework conditions. It is also a yes to being a part of a common set of values which make the EU so strong. It puts things into perspective that for countries in our neighbouring regions, the EU is still attractive – even though we are actually in the middle of a historically severe economic crisis.
Here, in 2012, we are preparing the road for the countries of the Balkans, and leading negotiations with Iceland into a decisive stage. This is a role we can be proud of.
Nicolai Wammen is Denmark’s minister for European affairs