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Ivo Vajgl: We Need a "Big Bang" Enlargement to the Western Balkans

Published on , , Strasbourg, Twitter: @AdelinaMarini

All Western Balkan countries have problems that need to be resolved. The European enlargement policy was put to the test because of Ukraine which was not treated as a future EU member, but the circumstances today have changed. At the same time, the European Commission and its President Jean-Claude Juncker made a step back in the enlargement policy and sent some not very good signals in the beginning. Mr Juncker's statement on enlargement was an unnecessary rhetoric. The fact that the name of the portfolio no longer is "enlargement" but "enlargement negotiations" does not mean a change of goals, told me in an interview Ivo Vajgl, a MEP from Slovenia who is currently a rapporteur on Macedonia and a member of the parliamentary delegation for Serbia. Mr Vajgl has been elected to the European Parliament through the list of the Democratic Party of Slovenian Pensioners (member of ALDE), led by Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec.

The Slovenian MEP is one of those who actively speak in the European Parliament on issues related to the European integration of the Western Balkan countries. We talked in Strasbourg during an unusual plenary session. One of the reasons for it being unusual was Pope Francis's address to the MEPs during which he explicitly mentioned the Balkans, saying that the membership in the EU of the countries from the region could contribute to the peace and stability after so many conflicts. Ivo Vajgl said he was a bit surprised by the explicit naming of the Balkans and that he gives the pope credit for that. According to him, this statement should boost greater interest and greater commitment toward the inclusion of all Balkan states in the EU.

The idea for a new big enlargement toward South-Eastern Europe should be considered seriously. A repetition of the "big bang" from 2004, when the EU swallowed at once 10 countries, eight of which from the former communist block. At the time, Mr Vajgl was briefly a minister of foreign affairs of Slovenia which was one of the two countries proposed to join (the other one was Estonia). But then one by one were added the others. According to him, this was a very bold idea which has to be applied for the Balkans as well, although they are still at various stages of progress and achievements.

Serbia has a European future

The Slovenian MEP had returned just days before his interview with me from a visit in Serbia and was convinced that this country is changing, although it might not be noted by the Serbs who want more. According to him, it is good that there is finally a political change after the long governance of a single political force. This is the centre-left Democratic Party led for a long time by ex-president Boris Tadic. Currently in power is the centre-right Serbian Progressive Party, led by Prime Minister Alexander Vucic. He is governing in a coalition with Ivica Dacic's Socialists. Ivo Vajgl praised the fact that a new political option has taken the responsibility, especially taking into account that the new power has the EU membership as an absolute priority.  

However, Ivo Vajgl believes that the play with the military parade in Belgrade, attended by Russia's President Vladimir Putin, was not the most brilliant idea. He said that he makes a very clear distinction between the Serbian history, traditions and friendship with Russia and its European perspective. It is important to remind the politicians in Belgrade, though, that by choosing the European path they commit to the European values and the principles of the common foreign and security policy. They cannot play with these things. "In this context, if you ask me, but even if you don't ask me, I'll tell you that the parade was a bad idea and this demonstration of political solidarity with Putin was not the best thing and the most modern way to demonstrate a political opinion", the Slovenian MEP said.

On the issue that has again inflamed the Balkans - Vojislav Seselj's return to Serbia - Ivo Vajgl said that this was not a "great" idea by the Hague tribunal. Seselj's behaviour is absolutely not understandable and that is why Ivo Vajgl said he was one of the MEPs who signed the European Parliament's resolution against him. However, he does not believe that Seselj can play any role in Serbia's political life. While he was in Belgrade, Ivo Vajgl was left with the impression that Seselj's return is not a serious political event. "This is simply someone, who has come out of the dark of the past, trying to get attention. And he did get it from the super nationalists and chauvinists. They are everywhere. You can see them in Croatia as well", he said. Seselj is a war criminal who has lost his position of an intellectual.

Everyone should contain their nerves but if Seselj crosses the red line, which means if his political statements lead to a renewal of the confrontations, extremism, if he insults the neighbouring countries, if he insults the victims of crimes which he and his followers caused, then, of course, should be taken judicial measures, he said and urged against holding a serious political discourse about him.

Bulgaria and Greece do not have a good policy toward Macedonia

Ivo Vajgl was critical to Bulgaria and Greece which, according to him, do not conduct a good policy toward Macedonia. Recently, he participated in a hearing on the situation with the human rights in the Western Balkans during which he urged some member states not to be so critical to Macedonia because they have the same problems. In front of euinside he refused to name specific MEPs, pointing out that if I have gotten the message, everyone have. "I don't think it is appropriate to pour oil in the fire. We don't need new mutual accusations, new sharp rhetoric which is mainly for domestic political consumption in some countries when elections are approaching and then a patriotic rhetoric is used to enhance the arguments. Arguments are enough. Emotions should be left aside".

In the same time, he criticised sharply the Macedonian authorities as well. Ivo Vajgl is of the opinion that a compromise on the name of Macedonia could have long been achieved if it were not for the interest of all sides to maintain nationalistic discourse. Digging into antiquity to enhance one's national identity, which Macedonia does, is unnecessary and is not a model of modern politics. In the same time, if one is left for so long without progress toward the EU and NATO, this encourages frustrations and the growingly stronger nationalistic policies. This leads also to the deadlock in parliament and other phenomena which are specific for the Macedonian society. There is action and reaction, the rapporteur on Macedonia explained.

He praised the Macedonian government for its economic achievements and said that he intends, as a rapporteur, to work in a more positive direction instead of the recent policy of criticising and mentoring. In this context, he again recalled the pope's speech. According to him, his most impressive message was that politics is for people and politicians are responsible to the people as individuals and as a community. "We should not seek other motives to be politicians but to help help the people", the Slovenian MEP Ivo Vajgl concluded.

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