The European Union Enlargement in the Western Balkans: A Never-Ending Story of High Hopes and High Disappointments
The European Union Enlargement in the Western Balkans:
A Never-Ending Story of High Hopes and High Disappointments
Hellenic Police Academy and Metropolitan College, Greece
This chapter offers an analysis of the Western Balkans’ thorny path towards joining the European Union (EU). The aim is to identify the key hurdles -which can also be viewed as challenges- in the European enlargement in the Western Balkans as well as to suggest ways to deal with these hurdles.
The chapter begins with a historical overview of the challenges that have defined the EU-Western Balkans relationship in the past decades.The discussion proceeds, in turn, to the most persistent hurdles that still derail the EU enlargement process in the region. Some of these hurdles are developed within the countries of the region, whereas some others originate from the EU. There is also the COVID-19 pandemic which had a shock effect on both sides. Understanding the nature of these hurdles is crucial if one wishes to evaluate the Western Balkans’ perspective in joining the EU.
After offering recommendations on how to overcome these roadblocks, the chapter builds upon the previous analysis and provides an outlook. Looking ahead, there is still hope that the European dream of the Western Balkans will eventually turn into reality. However, the accession process is expected to remain lengthy. The final outcome will be determined to a significant degree by the commitment of the candidate countries themselves, the EU as a whole, but also the future position of the twenty-seven member states. Although the new enlargement methodology can be seen as a step forward, individual member states can still hijack the enlargement process in an effort to promote their national agendas. This might prove to be the Achilles’ heel of the entire EU enlargement project.
Apart from that, in the months and probably years to come, the COVID-19 crisis is expected to continue to dominate the EU’s agenda. Nevertheless, keeping in mind that the stakes are too high, the Union should not let the enlargement project be overshadowed. Instead, it should stay focused on promoting a renewed enlargement strategy, with a fresh and genuine commitment to the European future of the Western Balkans.
Crucially, a happy ending requires reforms at both sides. On the side of the Western Balkans, the six countries need to stay focused on their ‘homework’ and deliver tangible and sustainable reforms. On the other side, the EU should use the new enlargement methodology as a starting point to refresh its enlargement process, in a way that builds trust, and gives hope to its closest neighbours. However, if the Union wants to make full use of the potential offered by enlargement it needs to promote its deepening further, proceeding to important institutional reforms. This is vital if the EU wants to be fit for the future, able to defend its interests with one voice and effectively ensure long-lasting peace and stability on its doorstep.
It is clear, therefore, that there is much hard work ahead for both the Western Balkan countries and the EU. The road will certainly be long and painful. Nevertheless, the stakes are too high, and both sides cannot afford to idle.
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