EU experts discuss future of Union at Ljubljana conference


After the rejection of the European Constitution there's concern that planned EU enlargement to take in Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia may be delayed. The Ljubljana-based Centre for Strategic Studies recently gathered together experts to look at the risks to further enlargement along with the ongoing crisis over the constitution.

Most of the participants in this expert panel agreed the rejection of the EU constitution by voters in France and the Netherlands is not a good sign for the continuation of enlargement. Mario Nobilo, Croatia's Ambassador in Slovenia said he was concerned about the situation in South Eastern Europe and the slowing of the reform process.

"The expectation of Croatia, our strategic goal is to start negotiations, of course at this point, because they have been stopped for a while. This is of course threatening the internal reform process within the country but generally at this moment we are more concerned for the region, not so much for Croatia, because we believe if the current internal crisis deepens it might threaten the enlargement process itself, which would then mean that there is no hope for Southeastern Europe. Southeastern Europe would definitely sink into instability, which would also in a reverse process affect the stability of the EU."

Alojz Peterle, a Slovenian member of the European Parliament and one of the authors of the rejected European constitutional treaty, insisted that the rejection is not directly associated with the previous or future rounds of enlargement. For him and the other members of the conference the French "no" in particular was a result of fear from globalisation and for the people, the EU represented one of the aspects of globalisation.

"Of course not, I am not pleased with the 'no's' in France and the Netherlands, especially now that in fact many areas I would say don't deal with the constitutional treaty but with other issues. There were 'no's' against the governments and the presidents, 'no' votes connected with the general atmosphere as far as globalisation is concerned. Of course I am sure that now we are in a crisis and we need time to reconsider to think slowly about this new situation. I think that some elements of this constitutional treaty will be approved in a different way afterwards."

Most of the experts agreed that the EU is currently in deep crisis. Borut Grgic the director of the Institute of Strategic Studies and host of the panel said the Balkan countries are likely to the main victims of the NO to the constitution...

"The biggest victim that I see in this enlargement fatigue is the Balkans, starting with Croatia. We know that the Nice Treaty provided enough room for another three members that is Romania and Bulgaria and the strategic decision to integrate Turkey. I definitely think that Turkey is the biggest fear of EU citizens but I also think that it is the biggest strategic goal of the EU enlargement process."

Romania and Bulgaria are scheduled to join the EU in January of 2007. Croatia's membership bid is on hold because of a fugitive general wanted by the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. But if the EU keeps to its promises all 3 should become members in 2007 or shortly after. But as the Ljubljana panel identified, there's a change of mood in the European Union following the collapse of the constitution ratification process - and, in the aspiring member states, there's real concern that this will lead to their membership being delayed.