Former leaders discuss Afghanistan, EU enlargement, differences in EU

Flags waving in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg

Bled – Developments in Afghanistan could be an opportunity to strengthen the EU, was one of the views presented at the former leaders’ panel at the Bled Strategic Forum on Wednesday, where the importance of EU enlargement to the Western Balkans and differences on European values in the EU were also highlighted.

Development of democracy can be encouraged but not enforced from outside, and this is a big lesson of the fiasco in Afghanistan, and also in Iraq, said Jacques Rupnik, a former adviser to former Czech President Vaclav Havel.

Former Austrian Speaker Andreas Khol believes that the Afghanistan developments will affect future actions by the US and NATO, which will make Europe again more isolated in advocating efforts to strengthen democracy around the world and international support for human rights.

On the other hand, Elmar Brok, a former chair of the European Parliament’s Foreign Policy Committee, said the developments in Afghanistan had opened up possibilities and opportunities for a stronger EU.

“If in such a situation we don’t introduce a qualified majority in security and foreign policy, it’s over. The EU must become effective,” he said.

Brok also pointed to differences within the EU, including between old and new member states, with former Slovak Prime Minister Mikulaš Dzurinda saying differences were not only between the Visegrad Four and the other EU members, but can also be seen in other areas such as the attitude towards China and Russia and to migrations.

“It’s evident that mutual trust and unity in the EU should be rebuilt again” alongside striking a balance between the conservatives and liberals, said Dzurinda.

Former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said the western, or old EU members did not understand the problems of the new members stemming from the past, or the former communist regime.

Similarly, Khol said the EU should not forget Poland and Hungary’s past under the Soviet occupation. Efforts are needed to try to make all members to respect European values, and if they have problems, then talks are needed to convince them to do so, he said.

Slovenia’s first Prime Minister and former MEP Lojze Peterle said words such as solidarity and the rule of law were used throughout the EU but were understood differently. He believes there is no point being ambitious if there is no consensus on these values.

Former Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio called for more clarity regarding Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty, which sets down EU values and directions in which the EU wants to go. Only in this way will the EU be credible in relation to citizens, she said.

The EU’s enlargement to the Western Balkans was also discussed, with Rupnik saying that while it was not a popular topic it called for political determination.

Pointing to the consequences of non-enlargement, he said every time enlargement was postponed, the EU lost some of its credibility, as could be seen in the case of North Macedonia. Both Rupnik and Palacio also highlighted the influence of Russia, Turkey and China in the region. “I can’t imagine strong prospects for the Western Balkans without a strong Brussels, in the strategical sense,” Peterle added.