Western European nations should use the example of their South Eastern neighbors when it comes to promoting the importance and benefits of the European Union. It is striking that in Europe's south east, the elections were fought mainly on faster EU integration, while in Western European countries - especially the UK - campaigns were focused from moderate to radical disengagement with Brussels.
Although one might have thought that enlargement fatigue would play an important role in major European Union countries, in Britain for instance this issue was overshadowed by the expenses scandal and immigration concerns. This, regrettably, created an opening for smaller nationalist and ultra-nationalist parties such as UK Independence Party (UKIP) and British National Party (BNP).
Enlargement fatigue was an important factor in countries such as France and Germany. During their campaigns, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear that Turkey's accession into European Union had to be put on hold. This, however, does not rule out that when push comes to shove, France and Germany would not make a U-turn (as they did in 2005) concerning Turkey's accession talks. Despite the obvious element of enlargement fatigue and with the opinion polls suggesting that the vast majority of the European Union population opposed Turkey's accession (opinion polls running as high as 80 percent against), it was then that both Germany and France signed the accession talks. The danger today is that the European Union's negative attitude toward Turkey could potentially further dishearten the Turkish people, increasing their skepticism about their future in Europe. This could have broader, negative repercussions considering Turkey's strategic importance in both Middle East and the Islamic world in general.
An entirely different scenario is developing in the Western Balkans. The European Union's positive approach toward their future European integration encouraged their governments to fight their elections mainly on their European perspective. Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who won the country's first general election since declaring independence, was reported as saying that his party had won an overwhelming majority as a result of a "pro-European policy in Montenegro."
Similarly, Serbian President Boris Tadic - whose Democratic Party was the main force in the pro-European alliance, and whose main campaign strategy was to speed Serbia's accession into the European Union - stated, following a clear victory, that: "The citizens of Serbia have undoubtedly confirmed a clear European path." Nevertheless, one has to bear in mind that when it comes to Serbia's accession into the European Union the issue of the recognition of Kosovo will be the determining factor. Serbian officials, along with some European officials, have often stated that the European Union would not set recognition of Kosovo as a condition in Serbia's bid for membership. But in reality, this will be precisely the case, simply because one of the main conditions for prospective European Union members is good neighbourly relations and non-territorial disputes among their future members.
Another case in point is offered by Albania's current campaign for its parliamentary elections later this month which will be fought mainly on European integration. Sali Berisha, Albania's most successful prime minister to date, while submitting a formal application for European Union candidate status to the EU's Czech presidency on April 28th said: "this application marks Albania's return to the European family of nations." Berisha added that 96 percent of the population supports European integration. After their successful admission to NATO earlier this year, Albanians are confident that their European integration will become a reality. However, the European Union has emphasised the importance of holding free and fair elections as a prerequisite for membership. Another salient factor, which will further contribute towards Albania's European integration, is that Albania is the only country in Europe predicted to have a positive economic growth during this year. The Financial Times recently described Albania's positive growth forecast as a "bright spot on Europe's gloomy economic map."
What lessons can be drawn from this election? Firstly, Europe's major parties - left, centre and right - should put aside their partisan interests and make sure that their constituents are better informed about the benefits of the European Union, as their South Eastern European counterparts do. This is particularly important in setting today's international financial and political agendas. Lack of a cohesive European voice could jeopardise global economic as well as political influence in a future world order where China and India are emerging as power players.
Rudi Guraziu is a Foreign Affairs Consultant specialising in the Balkan region.
Related Materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Marek Kubista: EU Elections: A Missed Opportunity to Fix the Democratic Defecit
- Editorial Team: What's Behind European Indifference?
- Marc Lewis Thomas: UK's Future in the EU in Question After Vote