Will the EU end up like Yugoslavia?

Seen from Belgrade, Zagreb or Sarajevo, the economic and institutional crisis that has struck the European Union has a certain air of déjà-vu. Serbian daily Politika remarks on the similarities with the years preceding the break-up of the federation founded by Tito.

Published on 5 January 2012 at 14:20

Relatively speaking, the European Union (EU) is beginning in many ways to resemble Tito’s Yugoslavia. As it stands, there is no lack of reasons to compare the incomparable. For example, at a time when the EU is attempting to reinforce centralised control of its periphery, its foundations are being threatened by excessive nationalism and accumulated incompatibilities between member states. This is a situation that is strongly reminiscent of the golden age of Yugoslavia (1981-1986), a period when it came close to joining the European Economic Community (EEC).

And that is not the only parallel. Much like Belgrade and Zagreb, Berlin and Paris have become pillars of the Union in spite of the differences between them. At the same time, we have seen a flare-up between financially responsible and spendthrift countries and between the more developed and less developed members of the EU. All of this has a lot in common with the process that led to the break-up of Yugoslavia.

The concept of a two-speed or multi-speed Europe recalls the idea of transforming the Yugoslav Federation into an “asymmetric confederation,” just as the slogan “Brotherhood and unity of Yugoslav peoples” is similar to the position currently defended by Brussels: that common interest should prevail over enmity and differences.

The democratic deficit suggests yet another parallel: in the one-party system in Yugoslavia, leaders were not elected by universal suffrage, just like the highly placed civil servants that manage today’s EU – in spite of the fact that all of the members of the Union have multi-party systems. In both cases, the fear that the more populous states would have too much influence has prevented the introduction of the principle of “one citizen, one vote.”

EU is working to avoid a Balkan-style scenario

We should also bear in mind that both the EU and Yugoslavia were built on ideas that no one, notwithstanding divergent interests, could contest: cooperation is more important than confrontation, friendship can overcome enmity, forgiveness is a prerequisite for common progress, and the mingling of cultures – although contested by the theory of the clash of civilisations – is inevitable.

However, both systems have encountered difficulties for the same reasons. Recourse to the principle of unanimity and consensus has prompted a crisis in the decision making process which has affected the efficiency of the EU, in the same way that it undermined Yugoslavia. Neither entity has succeeded in finding the right compromise between the centre and the periphery, nationalism and internationalism, internal and common policy, and between indebtedness and growth.

The collapse of Yugoslavia was largely due to such imbalances. Today the EU is working to avoid a Balkan style scenario. That is not to say that it could share the same fate as Yugoslavia, because there is no possiblity of war in Europe. But that is not the only reason. Even those who hope that the European project will fail want to benefit from its achievements, notably a certain equilibrium between the laws of the market and the social contract which has never before been attained. And finally, for our part in Serbia, we also aspire to join the EU, in spite of the slowness of the accession process.

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