RealClearWorld Newsletters: Europe Memo

Why Serbia Is a Country to Watch

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Hungary is in the European Union; Serbia is not. So the following graph, excerpted from a Adam Lebor-authored report published yesterday in Newsweek, is hardly the greatest endorsement for the Union's handling of the refugee crisis:

"In Belgrade, Serbia, like Budapest, makeshift transit camps have sprung up around transit hubs. In Budapest, municipal authorities provided transit zones with rudimentary facilities, but it was left to volunteer groups to provide food, water and clothes. In Belgrade, the authorities established an information center for refugees in the city center, co-financed by ADRA Germany, a relief agency, the U.N. refugee agency and the local government. Serbian authorities also banned anti-refugee protests by far-right groups. Collective memories of the mass displacement of the Yugoslav wars have also opened people's hearts; many Serbs themselves are refugees from Croatia and Bosnia. When Hungarian police used water cannons and tear gas on refugees rioting on the Serbian side of the frontier, Aleksandar Vucic, the Serbian prime minister, said Hungary was guilty of ‘brutal' and ‘non-European' behavior."

The crisis comes at an interesting moment for Serbia. The European Union is beset by enlargement fatigue. Indeed, when Serbia's neighbour, Croatia, became the 28th member of the Union in 2013, it probably became the last country that will join for a good number of years.

At the same time, Europe knows it cannot afford to ignore the Balkans. As written by Francisco de Borja Lasheras of the European Council on Foreign Relations:

"The Western Balkans remain Europe's unfinished business, not only for the continuing stalemate in Bosnia or tensions in Macedonia and Northern Kosovo, but also because broader geopolitical developments shaping the EU's neighbourhood are materialising in this region too -- and in ways that could be detrimental to European interests."

Twenty years after tragedy in the Balkans helped awaken Europeans to the idea that there are EU-wide security concerns that transcend national responses, the Balkans are the region where all of Europe's foreign policy interests and its security concerns converge. Not only are refugees streaming through countries such as Macedonia and Montenegro -- as well illustrated in this infographic -- but German authorities claim that as many as 45 percent of the migrants arriving in their country are economic migrants from the Balkans themselves. The EU's Balkan concerns go well beyond migration, according to another ECFR piece:

"The modernisation process in the region is flagging, and a tarnished, divided EU is often powerless to make real changes to Balkan political dynamics of polarisation, zero-sum games, and toxic nationalism. And as Russia deftly continues to use its levers in the region, the crisis in Ukraine could have spill-over effects that could damage European interests where it hurts most."

In a rare bright spot for the region, Serbia and Kosovo reached a series of agreements in August that move the countries toward normalizing their relations. The deals seem to favor Serbian interests; most visibly, the two sides took broad steps toward formalizing the Association of Serbian Municipalities, granting a yet-to-be-determined shape of autonomy to Serbs in Kosovo.

To some observers, the deal is a poison pill, one that threatens further Balkanization in the Balkans themselves. For Serbia, though, it is undoubtedly a boon. It opened up the door for the country to begin EU accession talks soon.

As written in the pages of RealClearWorld earlier this month, inaction in the Balkans is no option for the European Union. Serbia is now in the front line for accession, as it is at the front door of Schengen's pressured borders. Belgrade's handling of the refugees moving through Serbian territory thus bears watching. Will Serbian authorities seek to provide a counterpoint to their Hungarian and Croatian neighbors -- following the Merkel approach of at least initially extending a welcome to promote an image of goodwill and competence? Or will it prefer to trade barbs with Budapest and Zagreb?

Around the Continent

Slovakia doesn't like your qualified majority: Europe took an unusual step this month when it overrode the objections of four member states and agreed to redistribute refugees across the Continent. Slovakia was one of the dissenters, and Bratislava is pushing back:

"The Slovak government agreed, Wednesday, to launch a legal challenge against the recent EU Council decision to relocate 120,000 migrants. A government source told EUobserver the case, to be filed by the Slovak Republic, will be ready by mid-December. The ministry of justice is handling the dossier."

A good summary of NATO's existential moment: Andrew Michta catches the NATO zeitgeist quite effectively in his Politico EU essay. Just one excerpt from a piece well worth reading:

"[T]raditional assumptions about NATO's ability to bridge internal differences are being put to the test, with Turkey's policies toward the Kurds and Europe's East-West divisions on how to handle Russia now cleaving the alliance. Far from being a stately ‘zone of peace,' as received wisdom in Washington once had it, Europe is spiraling into a crisis that is likely to deepen in the coming years.

"Meanwhile, paltry defense budgets across most of Europe and planned further defense cuts by the United States -- when coupled with Russia's 10-year $700 billion defense modernization program -- have altered the balance of power in Europe. At no point since the end of the Cold War has there been a comparable need for Washington to refocus on Europe, to articulate a strategy to strengthen NATO, and to build consensus on how to rebalance America's military presence on the continent."

Can Ukraine be the next Georgia? Writing from the capital of one of the most corrupt of countries, RealClearWorld correspondent L. Todd Wood sits down with Davit Sakvarelidze, a former Georgian prosecutor now trying to professionalize governance in Kyiv and the port city Odessa:

"The stakes for Ukraine are huge. There have been many half-baked anti-corruption campaigns in the past that lacked the political will for real reform. This time Sakvarelidze hopes it's different. ‘It is not just Ukraine who will feel the pain if we fail. Ukraine is the gateway to Europe, a wall against the tide of Soviet-style corruption. I'd hate to think of the consequences to Europe and the world if we fail.'"

Take a seat, Seat: It's not just VW-branded cars; other Volkswagen brands are coming under the microscope as the emissions test scandal drives on:

"Audi, Skoda and Seat are all VW brands, too.

Affected Audi model lines include the A1, A3, A4, A5, A6, TT, Q3 and Q5.

If you have a new vehicle with a EU 6 diesel engine, Volkswagen says you're fine.

1million Skodas and 700,000 Seats are also affected."

How much does Europe still need America? Constanze Stelzenmuller takes a look for Brookings:

"If war broke out in Europe, massive American help would be needed, and it's hard to imagine that the U.S would not come. But -- like a deliberate Article V-type attack against a NATO member state -- it is the least likely thing to happen. Fixating on this scenario prevents preparation and cooperation for much more likely risks, such as the accidental escalation of a minor conflict."

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