If we were looking for a slogan for the EPC, ”Better than nothing” would do the job in the Western Balkans.

Voja Žanetić

Before we start considering issues related to the European political community, which is the topic of today’s issue of Vicinity, I would like to share a personal experience of buying a car. It will all make sense in the end.

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So, during a shopaholic tour of a car showroom, I sat in a model that seemed both acceptable and affordable. But even sitting down was quite difficult, because the steering wheel mercilessly hit my knees.

“Can this somehow be raised?” I painfully asked the friendly saleswoman of new car models.

“No, sir. Lifting the steering wheel is not included in the basic package.“

“And can the seat be lowered?” – I carefully gave signals that it would be very difficult to get out of the car, whose steering wheel did not allow me to move my legs ever again.

“Unfortunately no. You would also need to upgrade from the basic package for that.”

You guessed it, I did not buy any package of the car. I managed to come out of it though, and my knees are still in pain.

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Cases of “basic models” are not new in humour literature. Art Buchwald, the old and wonderful American satirist, explains in one of his stories that the back yard pool’s basic package implies an irregularly shaped hole, and that everything else has to be paid extra for. The diving board being the most expensive. But in order to understand why, it is necessary to read the story, spoilers are not ok. And something should be said about the European political community – EPC from here onwards.

According to examples presented so far, the EPC could be seen by a layman as the European Union in its “basic package”. This means that EPC member countries are part of something that, as the media tried to explain, “is not an institutionalized body that would have a secretariat or its own representatives, but is a platform for dialogue.”  So in that sense, whatever the sense, the European Union pointed out that it is not the organizer of the first EPC meeting in Prague, but that it is only a “facilitator”. This last word, I guess, should mean “organizer”, but the basic package version. Who knows.

The basic package understanding of the EPC also allows us to understand that those who access the EPC are not obliged to do the things for which they are not (anymore or still) members of the European Union; but they are still, in a certain way, included in Europe. Turkey, Ukraine, Great Britain, and any others, plus this bit of the (Western) Balkans: all those who are geographically able to consider themselves Europe (except, at the moment, understandably, Russia and Belarus) will be able to have an opinion on issues that are important for that same Europe. Not including, of course, financial questions about the EU budget, questions about legal compliance and a few others.

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As much as can be understood from the very little that is clearly and publicly defined, if we were looking for a slogan for the EPC, ”Better than nothing” would do the job in the Western Balkans. Because, in the classical sense, EPC is not an extended lobby for those who want to join the EU which would serve to be a place to sit WHILE they wait. No, it is a “platform” place that enables the candidate countries for EU accession to have contact the EU – WHEN THEY ARE ALREADY waiting. It’s not that there isn’t a difference, and it’s not that it’s small. And it’s not like it’s not a little better. The difference between nothing and something will be determined by the Western Balkans twice a year, as many times as the EPC is scheduled to meet.

And finally: what left the strongest visual impression from the Prague meeting was the huge red carpet, over which an almost endless band of European officials trod for a long time. And the first thing that may come to an observer’s mind on that occasion is the need to shake off the dust from that carpet, after Europe leaves.

On that European decades-old dust, some other time.