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The biggest challenge facing the European Union today is to clarify the European idea and ideals to European citizens, and the benefits the EU brings to them. One generation ago, this did not seem a problem. The peoples of Europe were still recovering from two world wars and a series of earlier conflicts that had ravaged their continent. Until 1945, virtually no decade had been without war or armed conflict in Europe. The concept of the EU as an instrument to bring lasting peace to the continent was broadly accepted.
Presently, a large part of Europe has known uninterrupted peace for almost seventy years. Peace has become so self-evident that new generations can hardly imagine it may not last forever. For this reason the EU, in order to stay relevant and worthy of continued efforts in the eyes of its population, urgently needs a new objective and challenge. But whatever way one looks at it, this seems a remarkable circumstance. Especially if one remembers how an important part of Europe – the Balkans – exploded in violence after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991 and the disintegration of the federal state of Yugoslavia. To the Netherlands, the traumatic events in Srebrenica are only too familiar. That was not even twenty years ago! In the more recent past, however, the Balkan countries that were not yet EU member states have become official candidates or are moving towards candidate status. Albania, for example, has been recognized by the EU as a potential candidate country. And from the start of this development, peace has become a reality to this part of Europe as well. In the Balkans it has lasted for more than fifteen years now, longer than ever before in this area – except for the period that Tito’s dictatorial rule kept the different groups together. That the Americans are the first to be thanked for this peace, while the EU had a merely indirect influence, is a fact Europe should draw lessons from. It should be made more clear that unity in European policy is directly connected to issues of life and death! But even now, the Balkans still remain Europe’s hothouse plant. In order to protect it and make it grow, irreversible steps must be taken soon.
Turkey’s story with the European Union may serve to underline the imperative for taking such irreversible steps at the right moment. For time and tide wait for no man. In 1964, pledges were made to offer Turkey the perspective of accession. Because this development was not forcefully stimulated further and it was not accepted that developments, once set in motion, could also be accomplished after accession, external factors of a completely different nature, (such as mass immigration of Muslims to Europe and the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001) was free to generate a sentiment in the EU against Turkey’s accession. Even if this sentiment would reverse, it would remain questionable now whether Turkey itself would not come to different choices. As a result the rapidly growing Turkish economy, which already ranks amongst the world’s ten largest economies, could take shape not within but outside Europe. The opportunities brought by the expansion of a country with nearly 80 million inhabitants would then unnecessarily be lost to the European economy.
The history of Turkey and the EU shows that certain political in-principle decisions have a limited shelf life, and do not remain valid in eternity. It is not only important to take decisions, but also to timely act upon them. The lesson from Turkey should be borne in mind when looking at developments in the Balkans, with Albania as well as with Serbia.
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Dit artikel verscheen in idee nr. 6 2011: The rule of law
en is te vinden bij de onderwerpen Europese Unie