Sometimes you have to ask yourself: Does the European Union even exist? Take Aug. 21, for example. That was the day when the government of Slovakia, an EU member state, refused to let the president of neighboring Hungary, also an EU member, enter the country.
The reason was that Slovakia’s large Hungarian minority feels its rights are being threatened by a new law protecting the Slovak language. The Slovak government vigorously denies any threat, yet viewed a planned visit by Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom as “deliberately provocative.”
Unhappily, the Slovak-Hungarian conflict is not the only one of its kind in Europe. EU member Slovenia has, for months, blocked accession talks with candidate country Croatia. Those talks were supposed to be wrapped up by the end of this year. Instead, Croatia’s membership has receded far into the future.
The reason this time was that the two former Yugoslav states cannot agree on the ownership of a few kilometers of Adriatic coastline, which provide vital access to open waters. For years, the EU has tried to mediate, so far unsuccessfully.
The same is true of the dispute between EU member Greece and EU candidate Macedonia. The Greeks have been stonewalling the formerly Yugoslav state since 1991, arguing that the name “Macedonia” implies territorial claims to parts of northern Greece.
That is why the government of 11 million Greeks has prevented the United Nations for years from recognizing the nation of two million. In fact, Athens has been doing everything it can to keep its northern neighbor out of a unified Europe.
There are three bizarre aspects to this story. First, economic ties between the rivals, both sides agree, are excellent. That goes for Slovenia and Croatia as well as for Slovakia and Hungary.
Second (and only partly for this reason), people in Greece, Slovenia and Slovakia think the current problems with Macedonia, Croatia and Hungary could not and should not lead to a change in the status quo in Europe.
Third and most importantly, the EU’s institutions are trying to mediate in these conflicts. And when that doesn’t work, they do nothing. Now the EU is paying the price for not having created political and judicial means of acting against member states years ago that put their own petty interests ahead of the union.