From 1 to 4 December 2019 I was on a promotional tour in Serbia for the Serbian edition of my book „Was wird aus der Europäischen Union? Geschichte und Zukunft„. A total of five newspaper interviews, one radio and one television interview had to be conducted as well as four lecture and discussion events.
The topic of EU accession is clearly a hot topic in Serbia, since the accession process is not coming off the mark. The EU is not particularly interested in accelerating the process, but may underestimate the frustration in the Western Balkans and the risks.
The lecture to Matica Srpska, Novi Sad, on 3 December dealt with the question of the EU future of the Western Balkan countries in a broader context.
Thesis III: The future of Serbia, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia, Albania as well as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo lies in EU-Europe
 If we look back at the strengths of the EU that I outlined earlier, it is easy to see that accession will be beneficial for all the countries of the Western Balkans. But also for the EU. The idea of European unity is nearing completion, and that is important because it is one of the central foundations of the EU. Geopolitically, the EU must have a great interest in not losing the Western Balkan countries to other actors with influence, especially the Russian Federation and China.
 In my view, the main reason why the enlargement process is stalling today despite the fact that it worked very dynamically between 1973 and 2013, in other words for 40 years, is not that the previous enlargements have yet to be digested, so to speak. Moreover, the consolidation of the EU before the next enlargement steps is an exaggerated argument or testifies to a misinterpretation of the situation.
 Nor do these arguments have anything to do with the normal accession process, which is a very lengthy one. This is because the EU is now a complete cultural system, an independent European culture. In order to succeed in this, a great deal of preparation is needed. How fast or slow this can be is, of course, also up to the candidate countries themselves, but the EU must show a sense of proportion. None of the countries that joined the EU in 2004 had completed the transformation process, and in most cases this is still not the case, at least in some areas. The current candidate countries must therefore not be expected to undergo a complete transformation before accession, which is part of EU membership.
 One must also not overlook the fact that the old member states also had to transform themselves from 1989 onwards; one speaks of co-transformation in order to make it clear that the upheaval of 1989/1991 meant transformation not only for the East but also for the West.
 The basic problem today is rather that the previous unification philosophy has reached its limits. The EU is in a phase of transformation, but I believe that it can also be managed with new members.
 The main reason for this thesis is that the EU is an association of nation states. No more, no less. It is in the nature of the EU that the member states not only pursue common goals, but also their own, mostly national, goals. This has always led to problems, but they have been solved. As long as the EU remains such a community of states, nothing will change in this basic situation. This means that this problem will have to be dealt with in the future, regardless of whether there are 27, 31 or more members. If we no longer dare to do that, the EU will be at the end of its rope.
 I would now like to look a little at the relationship between the EU and the nation-state members. This is an important question, because Serbia will also have to address it: How Serbian can Serbia be when it joins the EU?
 Historically, one must begin with a paradoxical-sounding observation, based on research by Alan S. Milward: the process of European integration has saved the nation state. It has not robbed it of its sovereignty. When Serbia joins the EU, it can look to the future with confidence.
 After the Second World War there were strong voices among the European Movement and the European Federalists not to restore the individual nation states first, but to create a European federal state. We do not know whether this would have worked. If it had come to this, it could have been only a Western European federal state, a later accession of other countries would perhaps have been much more difficult than the accession to the EC (European Community) or EU. But it is pointless to speculate about it, it has come differently.
 After the war, the nation state had to be redefined. The nation state of imperialism was historically outdated and had failed, leading to the First World War. The Balkan states and the newly created states after the First World War were at best superficially integrated into international structures. These were not sufficient to stabilise the states.
 After 1945 this meant for the concept of the nation state: it had to serve peace within the framework of common structures, it had to serve the well-being of the population, it had to belong to international structures which contributed to its economic, political and military stability. This changed the tasks of the individual state: peace is a common task and is more than just no war. The well-being of the population depends greatly on the well-being of as many people as possible in as many neighbouring states as possible. The welfare state of the post-war period was not a purely national achievement anywhere, neither in the East nor in the West, nor among the non-aligned, even though it was portrayed as such. Without dismantling tariffs, free trade, common product standards, etc., no national prosperity can be created. This would not have been possible without international or European Community structures. A nation state without a well-functioning economy is a contradiction in terms; without the special promotion of economic cooperation after 1945, some states would not have been able to hold their own because, like the new states after the First World War, they could not have achieved a well-functioning economy.
 The main effect of the European and international structures was the creation of stable states. We can see just how enormously important this was today, when states are disintegrating in many regions of the world, especially in Europe’s neighbourhood.
 All this applied to the West, the East, the non-aligned countries – despite ideological and systemic differences. However, these differences became more and more noticeable from around 1970 onwards. Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik and especially the CSCE process from 1973 onwards and later the disarmament talks were intended to counteract the negative consequences.
 There is no time to deepen these thoughts and to work out the differences between the blocks (west, east, non-aligned). It would also not change the realization that the nation states owe their survival as a normal form of government not to themselves, but to the European or international embedding. Strictly speaking, the EU is only one of several possibilities, but it is the most successful.
 One important lesson can be drawn from this: Anyone wishing to join the EU is welcome to see oneself as a nation state, but must be aware that there are narrow limits to nationalism. Nationalism leads to a loss of sovereignty. This means that the Russian Federation and China are not serious alternatives to the EU, the proximity to these two empires leads to a loss of sovereignty, while membership of the EU maintaines as long as national consciousness or patriotism does not become nationalism.
 European integration, the result of which is the EU, has relaxed the relationship between the nation states on important points – in favour of peace. In the EU and the internal market, the political borders between states no longer play the same role as in the past. In the past, these were borders that hindered or interrupted the mobility of people, goods and capital. Borders were needed to assert a national identity. Today, borders in the EU are permeable and people themselves decide where they want to live and work. I say this with a view to Serbia and Kosovo. The solution lies in joint membership of the EU.
 Think of the German-French and German-Polish neighbourhood, of the wars in which one of the questions has been the national affiliation of Alsace-Lorraine or Silesia and Gdansk. Today it is a remote story, the borders are open, because these countries are together in the EU, the people have reached out their hands. EU law protects minorities and prohibits discrimination. These are not empty words, the European Court of Justice is judging, the EU Commission ensures that the law applies and is enforced.
 Not least because of this, only democratic countries can become members of the EU.
 From the time between the two world wars one could learn that the form of government of democracy could only develop well if the neighbouring states were or remained democratic. In the EU, the democratic form of government, which is a constitutional state based on human rights, plays a central role in the way the EU sees itself. Those who want to safeguard and protect their democracy are right in the EU.
 There are two points to note here: (1) The fact that the EU is so clearly linked to democracy, the rule of law and human rights was not the case from the outset. This has only developed over the years. (2) The Member States may all be regarded as democracies, but the EU Treaty expressly grants them their own legal traditions and their preservation. No state constitution in Europe is the same as any other.
 The EU Treaty regulates what falls within the exclusive competence of the Commission – that is the supranational element. The Treaty regulates what is to be decided jointly by the Commission and the Member States; everything else remains in principle a national competence, even if there are common legal principles such as non-discrimination, which always apply and must be applied, no matter who is responsible.
 Everyday life in the EU shows that it is not always easy to keep a balance here. There is a temptation to put national egoisms or party political goals, which are sold to the public as national goals, above the goals of the community.
 In particular, problems that have causes outside Europe have been pointing to fault lines for some years now. That is why I stressed earlier that the EU is at least as global as it is European. It has long been a great mistake to believe that the EU is only about Europe and about making itself at home in Europe. No, it is more and more about tackling global problems that can only be tackled by a strong community and not as a single state.
 A community like the EU opens up certain political choices to all who are in the process, as different interests are constantly being negotiated with each other. It is often like a bazaar. Everyone knows that you have to pay a price to others for your interests, but you can push the price down or get more for the same price. As long as this system is not overused and overly selfishly abused, it will work, and if it gets out of balance, it will be delicate. A community like the EU does not work without a minimum of solidarity among its members.
 Many fields, such as international migration, climate change, international trade, digitisation, organised crime, terrorism, etc., are global phenomena, but they affect each individual state and each individual. This leads to special national paths, which are usually combined with the claim to power of one party each, as in Poland and Hungary. The securing and expansion of the power of one party in the country is combined with transnational problems and the refusal of solidarity. In addition, alliances are being built with empires such as the Russian Federation and China, knowing that these two are more interested in a weak than a strong EU. Meanwhile, the US is behaving like these two empires, so the proximity Poland seeks to the US, just as Hungary seeks to Russia and China, is counterproductive.
 No matter which international organization or community a country wants to join, there are always current problems as well as advantages. The EU is no exception. Membership brings with it obligations as well as rights, nobody can only benefit from it, but must also take the legitimate interests of others into consideration as a gesture of solidarity.
 These statements are banal, but are constantly present in the everyday life of a membership. But since this is always the case and everywhere, one can simply say that it is part of it.
 I believe that Serbia can accelerate the accession process if it not only talks and negotiates with the EU institutions and other European governments, but also promotes itself to EU citizens. There is little knowledge about Serbia in the western parts of Europe. Serbia could change that. It is advisable not only for Serbia, but for every European country, not only to concern itself with itself and its historical problems, but also to approach the populations of the other countries and interest them in themselves.  Zoran Hamović, myself and some others have tried for some years with the Felix-Kanitz-Verein to put exactly this into practice. There was a lot of interest in our events, but not enough money. Maybe the situation is better now, at least it is worthwhile to approach the others directly from Serbia.
Documentation: The programme of the promotional tour has been organized by Clio publishers (Belgrade). For the round table at the Institute of European Studies, Belgrade, see the institute’s homepage. The round table was organized by the institute’s director dr Miša Đurković.
Reference: Wolfgang Schmale: European Union Future for Western Balkans Countries, in: Mein Europa, Blog: https://wolfgangschmale.eu/european-union-future-for-western-balkans-countries-3.