When the EU’s ‘Big Bang’ happened in 2004 and 3 years later with the membership of Bulgaria and Romania, the focus was on how the accession countries were expected to adapt and integrate to join a prestigious ‘club’. Little thought or column inches were devoted to the notion that perhaps, the EU ought to change as well. With the accession of new member states come not only more voices, but also more diversity of opinion and practical differences of geography, history, economics and daily life. A law about fishing that may work well in Malta, might be entirely inconvenient for Poland…and with sensitive issues such as immigration and religious freedoms being subject to EU-wide legislation, it becomes ever more clear that the EU’s usual manner of working (that suited a small economic union of relatively similar countries decades ago) cannot function in the same manner now it is a group of 28.
We at the CDRSEE cherish diversity and welcome the enlargement of a union that, despite its challenges, has been at the core of the peaceful progress of the continent for over 60 years. However, we recognise that just as the current candidate countries seem to sometimes lack consistency in their efforts to meet the conditions for accession, in the same way, the EU has lacked in its support for these countries to do so. If the EU is to succeed as a force for democratic progress, we cannot expect that acceding countries alone make the effort to ‘fit in’.
At the EU-Western Balkans’ Summit in Sofia in May, the EU focused on the central issues of reconciliation, connectivity and education. These are not 3 separate abstract notions; they can only work in cooperation with one another. In order for each to move forward, the other two need to be realised, and this is where the Joint History Project comes in. We have seen clearly over the 2 decades of the JHP’s existence, that education is the key to reconciliation and that due to connectivity, this small miracle of the JHP exists. The JHP is a feat of democratic cooperation and has been achieved together with the support of the EC, Ministries of Education in the Western Balkans and, of course, the dedication of the historians, contributors and teachers. In light of the current good news that the Ministry of Education in Serbia has approved certification for teacher training sessions using the JHP II materials, we are optimistic that the workbooks will be used in schools in the near future. However, we need the funds to train teachers and for this we need EC support. The CDRSEE is the only organisation with the capacity to carry out regional projects of this scale and content, and while we have the support in word, of governments, EU officials and civil society, we need the region and the EU to make use of the current connectivity to support education towards reconciliation. The JHP as a model of these three intertwined ideas in practice, is the way to do so.