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Comment By Zoran Panović

Growth Plan

Late April saw the European Parliament give the green light to the Growth Plan for the Western Balkans, with the Council of the European Union duly adopting it in early May and thus formally concluding the procedure. As announced from within the EU, the Growth Plan will support reforms linked to the region’s EU accession and improve economic growth. Aid totalling six billion euros will be provided to the region through the scope of this new financial instrument. This plan was also promoted at the most recent summit between the EU and the Western Balkans in Kotor as the “Kotor Cream Pie”, which was preceded by the “Bled Cream Pie” at the previous summit held in the town of Bled

The Kotor Cream Pie basically differs from the traditional (and Bled) cremeschnitte in that it is made with three layers of pastry instead of two. If the Bled cremeschnitte arrived in Slovenia from Vojvodina, Kotor folk will tell you that their recipe was brought by Italians. The European journey of the countries of the region is seemingly a cream pie with seven pastry layers, because in these lands it is said that arduous work and a hard road are earned as “bread with seven crusts”. Okay, at least cream pie – as a beloved delicacy – still sounds better than a carrot – in the context of the old “carrot and stick” metaphor for the method used by the “collective West”, as Putinophiles like to say, to talk with the Western Balkans, or more specifically with the Serbs and the Serbian element in the region.

Speaking at September 2023’s Bled Strategic Forum, European Council President Charles Michel stated that the EU and the Western Balkans should be ready for enlargement by 2030. That’s even worse than “Junker’s date” (referring to former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker), according to which Serbia (together with Montenegro) could become an EU member state in 2025 (which now sounds ridiculous), but is nonetheless better than “Mitsotakis’s date” (referring to current Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis), according to which Serbia would only join the EU in 2033. And that is independent of the fate of other Western Balkan countries.

The wars of Yugoslavia (Titoland) weren’t civil wars, but rather ethnic and religious conflicts. This should also be considered with the Growth Plan for the Western Balkans, because normalisation cannot be achieved by hiding the taboo war narratives of the ‘90s behind economic prosperity and forced resolutions

The only worse assessment than this one was recently given by former Slovenian President Borut Pahor, who is offering himself up to succeed Lajčak as the EU’s special representative for Kosovo and who stated that, if developments continue at the current pace, the region won’t be in the EU even by 2050 – or just a year after the year in which Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner sequel is set.

The wars of the 1990s in Yugoslavia (Titoland) did not start due to poverty, but rather because of frenzied nationalism. These weren’t civil wars, but ethnic and religious conflicts. This should also be considered with the EU’s Growth Plan for the Western Balkans, because normalisation cannot be achieved by hiding the taboo war narratives of the ‘90s behind economic prosperity and forced resolutions, or that one UN resolution regarding the Srebrenica massacre. That would be a deceptive normalisation akin to Tito’s modernisation that was conducted by sweeping under the carpet some of the episodes and magnitudes of World War II in these lands. That is not sufficient, just like Angela Merkel’s Berlin Process.

Vučić downplays euro-optimism with his cynical (Euro-realism) suggestion that Serbia won’t be able to join the EU before Ukraine. Is that really more realistic than the hope that Serbia would join the EU together with Croatia, as could have been heard at the 2003 EU Summit in Thessaloniki?

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