At Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center Tuesday a university researcher on the Balkans, Milada Vachudova, credited the European Union with having a very positive impact in generating democratic and market-based reforms in prospective member countries.
Ms. Vachudova says 14 years after communism collapsed in Europe the EU deserves credit for keeping the reform process on track. She argues that by emphasizing openness and civic responsibility EU membership requirements foster democratic procedures, even in applicant countries with no tradition of liberal democracy.
While she admits that the EU's 80,000 pages of regulations that prospective members must adopt are excessively bureaucratic, she says they also enhance minority rights and political pluralism. Thus, says the University of North Carolina political scientist, it is no coincidence that the eight east European nations that will join the EU next May have achieved a degree of political stability few experts thought possible only 10 years ago.
As evidence of the EU's salutary impact, she points to Slovakia, which in just six years has made an impressive reversal from authoritarianism to liberal democracy. With luck, she says, the same process could apply in the Balkans.
Ms. Vachudova, an American of Czech ancestry, was asked if she believes that Romania and Bulgaria are likely to join the EU as early as 2007.
"The question you should ask is whether I think Bulgaria and Romania will be qualified to join in 2007. I think Bulgaria will be. I don't think Romania will be," she said. "And I think what well may happen is that Romania will get in because it would be inconvenient to have Romania waiting longer. But it is also possible that both Romania and Bulgaria will both wait until Croatia is ready and the three will join together."
Ms. Vachudova says aside from Croatia, it will be a long time before any other Balkan nation wins approval to join the EU. Turkey, she says, is a separate issue on which the EU is likely to make a decision within the next year. Brussels, she says, is aware that it has made a significant error over the past decade in vacillating on whether it really wants heavily populated and Muslim Turkey to become a member.