POLICY PAPER: EU membership of the Western Balkan states in times of crisis: From a strategic choice to protracted inertia

Our associate research fellow Marko Stojić in his latest policy paper deals with the Western Balkans' European perspective and the COVID-19 crises' impact on the countries' journey towards EU membership.

At the Zagreb Summit in May 2020, the EU once again reaffirmed ‘its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans’, while the Western Balkan states pledged that EU membership is ‘their firm strategic choice’. Indeed, the EU adopted a revised enlargement methodology1 hoping to revive the accession process, finally agreed to open membership negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, and proposed a new Economic and Investment Plan for this region. And yet, the Commission in its 2020 reports1 painted a grim overall picture of the state of play in the aspiring members, demonstrating a lack of their genuine and credible commitments to joining the Union.

The process that began twenty years ago has not yet resulted in sustainable political and economic changes aimed at stabilising and democratising this turbulent region. Apart from North Macedonia and, to some extent, Albania that have made progress in meeting the conditions for the launch of their EU membership talks, most (potential) candidates have stagnated or regressed in implementing reforms needed to join the Union. The Commission noted that ‘credible progress in the rule of law area remains a significant challenge’ and that ‘democratic systems in the Western Balkans are still not functioning properly’, while ‘urgent efforts are necessary to ensure freedom of expression and the independence of the media across the entire region’. Although more detailed and critical in assessing the state of play in each (potential) candidate, the Commission nevertheless missed an opportunity to call things by their real name, to directly point out the areas where candidates not only made no strides but also backslid, and offer more concrete – if not punitive – measures to overcome what is now a chronic lack of progress. The Commission reports also show that there are arguably no fundamental differences between countries negotiating EU membership for years and those that are yet to start accession talks, casting doubt on how much the EU genuinely contributes to the transformation of the aspiring members and their preparation for joining the bloc.

You can read the entire policy paper using the PDF button on the right side.

#Western Balkans

Marko Stojić
Associate Research Fellow

Expertise: European integration, EU enlargement, political parties in the Western Balkans, party-based Euroscepticism.

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