• The broader Black Sea region is the scene of increasing tensions amid renewed great power competition and conflicting geopolitical and geo-economic interests. The rise of China and its solidifying regional footprint requires a better understanding of how this influence is capitalised at national and regional level, what type of challenges it creates for respective countries, and what choices decision-makers have at their disposal in this new complex and complicated geopolitical setting.

    Balkans China Foreign Policy

    China in the Broader Black Sea Region

    Collaborative

    17 Mar 2021

  • When Marty played Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” at the end of the cult film “Back to the Future”, he was surprised to see the crowd’s confused and resentful faces. In that moment, he realised that he’d played a rock’n’roll song just a bit too modern for a 1955 audience, and he said “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it.

    That scene reminded me of the EU Enlargement policy towards the countries of the Western Balkans, almost 30 years after the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the promise to all countries from the region to be part of the EU.

    As Chuck Berry sang, “his mother told him – someday you will be a man…maybe someday your name will be in the lights, saying Johnny B. Goode tonight”. This year, those dreams went one step further for North Macedonia in March, with the European Council’s green light to begin accession negotiations, before being crushed once again. Like a déjà-vu, it was a neighbour who brought such poor news, this time Bulgaria through its use of a veto on the EU’s decision to open negotiations with the country.

    Bulgarian objections over North Macedonia entering the negotiation process have little (nothing) to do with the objective, normative criteria imposed by the EU for the country’s preparedness for this process. The objections are instead of a historical, identity nature. Namely, Bulgaria claims that the origins of the Macedonian nation are Bulgarian, and the Macedonian language is actually a Bulgarian dialect. Also, the demands are that this is officially acknowledged by the state, along with a renunciation of any claims that there is a separate Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. The two countries signed a Treaty of Friendship Good-neighbourliness and Cooperation in 2017, which does not contain any of the aforementioned demands, but they were being adopted in the Bulgarian Parliament as part of a declaration after the signing of the bilateral agreement. Bulgaria also pushes towards these demands and a roadmap for the implementation for the Friendship Agreement to be incorporated in the negotiating framework, which would require an additional chapter in the framework, Number 35.

    “This is heavy!” – Marty says this multiple times in the trilogy.

    After 28 years, North Macedonia and Greece in 2019 managed to close a long-standing dispute over the country’s name. The process was painful, but necessary for North Macedonia to pave the road towards becoming a NATO member (which happened in March 2020) and an EU member (who knows when?!). The paradox of these two disputes is that the Greeks were very persistent on wanting to prove that there is no connection between the nations, that they are separate, the language they speak, that the cultural and historical background is different. Now, Bulgarians want to prove the opposite, that “we’re all the same”. The declared commitment of Bulgaria to have a role as a regional leader and supporter to the countries of the WB to join the EU has shifted into its purely national interest against the good neighbourly relations and EU values and principles.

    The real problem here is that the EU remains powerless to overcome this stands still and deflect the Bulgarian attempt to frame this as an EU issue, not just a Bulgarian issue. The veto is a threat on multiple fronts: to North Macedonia’s EU integration, to the stability of the region, and to the EU’s credibility to fulfil their promises towards the Western Balkans region. With an open dispute and dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina over the Kosovo issue, the EU is further weakening its position in the region as a credible partner, pulling away from its interests in the Western Balkans.

    For North Macedonia, it’s unacceptable to be forced into making concessions in this respect. The historical committee[1] created to find facts on the shared history between North Macedonia and Bulgaria was supposed to work towards building trust, and has so far failed in that endeavour. Furthermore, the Prespa Agreement, which concluded the dispute with Greece, is based on the promise of the country’s EU accession[2]. Having no prospect of this ever happening would freeze or shake the implementation of that agreement, which could lead to destabilisation in the relations between North Macedonia and Greece – another threat to regional stability.  Unfortunately, it’s very likely that this will increase nationalist rhetoric on both sides, which is “the good old Balkan recipe” for neighbourly relations.

    In conclusion, it’s unlikely that the veto could be lifted before the end of the year. Many harsh statements have been made, and apparently there is no goodwill for constructive talks or negotiations now. But what is of absolute necessity is that the European Commission, the European Council majority, but also the Presidency of the Council should persuade its member to pull back from the hostile narrative towards its neighbour and instead be constructive about the envisioned enlargement policy of the Union. And then Marty could say “Great Scott!”.

    The blog expresses the personal opinion of the author and is a part of the Road to Warsaw Security Forum: Western Balkans Program


    [1] The Joint Committee of Historical and Educational Issues of North Macedonia-Bulgaria is formed within the Treaty of Friendship Good-neighbourliness and Cooperation and aims to decide on the joint celebration of personalities and events in the two nations’ common history, helping to overcome various interpretations.

    [2] The Prespa Agreement ended the 29-year dispute over the name Macedonia between Greece and North Macedonia, which was a pre-condition for the latter country to be unblocked on its path towards EU membership.

    Katerina Jakimovska Balkans Enlargment Integration

    Katerina Jakimovska

    Back to the Future? EU Membership Ambitions Stuck in Time

    Blog

    07 Dec 2020

  • ‘The Future of EU Enlargement: a New Momentum for the Western Balkans’ with Freedom and Democracy Foundation (Albania)

    Discussants:

    – Vladimír Bilčík, MEP, EPP, Chair, D-ME Delegation

    – Jovana Marović, Executive Director, Politikon Network

    – Genc Pollo, Former MP and Head of Parliamentary Commission for EU Affairs of Albania

    – Patrick Voller, Secretary of External Relations, EPP – ModeratorSHOW LESS

    Balkans Enlargment

    NET@WORK Day 2 – Panel 4

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    26 Nov 2020

  • Everyone is so eager for the year 2020 to end and be forgotten as promptly as possible. It has been a year of turmoil, despair, uncertainty, and fear. This year has also turned all eyes on government’s ability to handle the health crisis, to take care of its citizens, and to reassure them that any step in their power will be taken to ensure people are safe and protected. The only certainty is that this year will not be forgotten. As for the Corona nightmare ending in 2021, it’s rather unlikely.

    The domestic handling of the pandemic crisis set a daunting challenge for countries in the Western Balkans (WB). Known as states with unconsolidated democratic systems, with weak institutions, widespread clientelism, and low transparency, they were truly put to the democracy test. To intercept and halt the virus spread, several countries declared a state of emergency (Serbia, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina). This meant the imposition of long curfews and limits on civil liberties, legislative initiatives adopted through fast procedures, and changes to election rules. Furthermore, the names of citizens ordered to self-isolate during the pandemic were published (Montenegro, North Macedonia). In the meantime, a government was toppled through a vote of no-confidence (Kosovo)[1][2]. In all countries, there was a flood of fake news on mainstream and social media, with different conspiracy theories, but also untrue methods for dealing with the disease.

    It could be said that this is to be expected in a region where countries have been struggling to consolidate their democracies since the 1990s, and the challenges mentioned above are simply a consequence of decades of political erosion. No wonder that under these circumstances, citizens’ trust in government institutions and their ability to cope with the virus, was low to begin with. The pandemic did impose an additional burden on the political systems, and they did send dangerous signals. If such tendencies continue to erode the societies even after the pandemic is over, they would further damage and significantly slow the pace of WB countries, candidates for EU membership.

    On another note, the pandemic is not over yet. A global economic crisis is most likely on our doorstep, and the longer it lasts, the bigger the democratic challenge will be. This would “invite“ other external actors to take advantage of the fragile state of democracy in the Western Balkans and enhance their presence (Russia, China, Turkey, the UAE). Even before the pandemic, these countries have been exercising influence through various instruments. The region has also been known for its fragile stability in terms of security. Further democratic backsliding could be a contributing factor to the region’s renewed instability and conflict.

    What can be done to consolidate rather than weaken democracy in the Western Balkans?

    At the beginning of the year, the EU announced the revised enlargement methodology, and decided to open negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. This process has also been affected by the pandemic. It raised fears that this process’ dynamic would be slowed down, since bigger challenges have risen in priority in the EU’s agenda. However, the European Commission has restated its aspirations for the Western Balkans region, and adopted the comprehensive Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans. It would be important to start the negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia as soon as possible, so that the reform process related to it can unfold properly.

    In general terms, instead of constantly reassessing the influence of external actors like Russia, China, and Turkey in the Western Balkans, the EU should seriously engage in finding solutions to tackle these actors’ presence. It is apparent that even though their overall investments are much lower than the EU, their communication strategy targeted at citizens is much stronger, and people are being convinced that these particular actors are their real allies (e.g., the media spotlight of the Chinese donations to Serbia to tackle the pandemic). The EU is straining its credibility in the region, leaving it to wait on the doorstep for too long, and leaving space for the “others” to fill in. Instead of “extinguishing fires” in the region and inertly mediating conflicts among neighbouring countries, the EU should be blunt and swift in its decision-making and communication towards the region. The announced Economic and Investment Plan for the WB countries is a great way to show presence and serious commitment to the region. But on the political side, the entire enlargement and accession process is missing dynamism. There are countries which have been candidates for more than 10 years without any prospect to foresee the date of accession and this creates “fatigue” in the EU support by the electorate and a vacuum for tendencies to shift the perspective towards the very known authoritarianism. It is not demanded from the EU to lower the criteria for accession, nor to impose “fast-track” negotiations, but consistency and dynamics which will keep the candidate countries motivated to maintain their course.

    Finally, the pandemic was not as encouraging for autocrats as expected. This is true globally, not only in the region. Authoritarian leaders can reinforce their power through crises they can control, with an enemy of their choosing and strings they can pull. The global pandemic has one “monster“ enemy, the Coronavirus, which cannot be negotiated with. Governments must work and show proven results that they are handling it, enabling comparison with other countries through numbers and measures. But citizens cannot be fooled. This showed in Montenegro’s election results, in the Serbian protests about the announced reimposition of a curfew during the summer, but also in Belarus.

    The spark of hope is that maybe this pandemic will not significantly enhance democracies in the Western Balkans, but it will not weaken them either. And there are ways of moving away from the status quo.

    This article was submitted as part of the author’s application for the Road to Warsaw Security Forum: Western Balkans Program organised by the Casimir Pulaski Foundation.


    [1] This designation is in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1244/99 and the International Court of Justice Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.

    [2] More on: Tzifakis, Nikolaos. “The Western Balkans during the Pandemic: Democracy and Rule of Law in Quarantine?” European View, (October 2020).

    Katerina Jakimovska Balkans Democracy

    Katerina Jakimovska

    Will the COVID-19 pandemic strengthen or weaken democracy in the Western Balkans?

    Blog

    13 Oct 2020

  • What was supposed to be the first Croatian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, driven by the motto “A strong Europe in a world of challenges”, has become the first ‘virtual’ presidency in an, indeed, challenging world. Despite Croatia’s big aspirations of showing the EU how its youngest member state can take up a leading position, the country had to shift its priorities.

    Nevertheless, not only was the final Brexit agreement sealed, but also, the Council of the EU delivered good news to North Macedonia and Albania. The road to the EU has been now paved for those two Western Balkan countries. Meanwhile, North Macedonia officially joined NATO, becoming the 30th member of the Alliance.

    What is to be expected from now on (during and after the Croatian Presidency) for these countries? Will EU enlargement be affected by this?

    Balkans

    Online Event ‘Balkans in a New Era: An overview of the Croatian Presidency’

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    07 May 2020

  • The world is currently bent on its knees amid the Coronavirus health crisis. While most of the European continent is “on pause”, for some countries it has turned out to be a time of dreams coming true. North Macedonia’s NATO accession is a case in point.

    The extremely difficult circumstances for Spain which is coping with the COVID-19 were not an obstacle for this momentous decision. The Senate in Madrid remotely voted and passed the bill approving North Macedonia’s accession, the last country on the path to this achievement. This completed one of the two strategic goals for the country since its independence: to join the North Atlantic Treaty.

    The news from Spain was praised by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, and after the signature of the protocol by the President of North Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski, the formal ceremony of flag-raising is set to take place in Brussels. With this, the country’s quest which began in 1995 when it joined the alliance’s Partnership for Peace program has been completed. In 2008 at the Bucharest Summit, the longstanding name dispute was a reason for Greece to push strongly NATO not to give an invitation to a then-constitutionally named Republic of Macedonia.

    And that is only a part of the celebratory package. Some historic mistakes have been given a chance to be repaired. As Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez put it in his novel ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ (especially relevant nowadays), “humanity, like armies in the field, advances at the speed of the slowest.” The same can be said about consensus among EU member states.

    After the hugely disappointing failure to take a decision in October 2019, the Council of the EU on 25 March adopted conclusions on the EU’s enlargement policy, giving the green light to the opening of EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. In a completely unusual setting for EU institutional meetings, the efforts by the EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi have been met with success.

    The EU Council in October failed to decide on opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania mostly due to the French position that the EU is in need of “deep internal reform and a new methodology for negotiations”. In February 2020, the Commission adopted and published a revised enlargement methodology. This new procedure seemed to appease French President Emmanuel Macron who slowly shifted his position. He raised first hopes that the French veto would be lifted after facing huge criticism by the EU’s leadership and leaders of Western Balkan countries on the “fatality” of the mistake he was making.  Perhaps, as Márquez wrote in 1988, “a Liberal president was exactly the same as a Conservative president, but not as well dressed.”

    The reactions to the new enlargement strategy in the Western Balkans ranged from “unimpressed” and “it will all end up as another paper-pushing exercise” to the more optimistic tone that “it will work only if used properly”.

    But what really counts is that the air has been cleared on this issue after 5 months.  As Márquez would say, the EU “opened the door a crack wide enough for [North Macedonia and Albania] to pass through.” The details of the negotiation process to follow have not been released yet, as the crisis triggered by the Coronavirus outbreak has created many uncertainties and a halt in many political and institutional processes. Once again it shows, when there is a political will, not even a slow internet connection can stop the dreams of some countries being fulfilled.

    For North Macedonia, the utmost strategic goals in the 29 years of the country’s independence have been EU and NATO accession. The unfortunate timing is moving the celebratory atmosphere to the homes of those staying in quarantine, as the country has imposed a curfew and restrictive measures on people’s movement in an attempt to cope with the spread of the COVID-19. After all, it’s more than just a light at the end of the tunnel.

    Katerina Jakimovska Balkans COVID-19 Enlargment European Union

    Katerina Jakimovska

    Marquez in the Western Balkans – Lifelong dreams fulfilled in the time of Corona

    Blog

    26 Mar 2020

  • We could be heroes just for one day

    Though nothing will keep us together

    We could steal time just for one day

    David Bowie

    “Historic mistake” is the recap of the outcome of the European Council Summit, which didn’t adopt the decision to grant the start of negotiations for EU Accession of North Macedonia and Albania. This news has toppled the hopes of both countries for becoming members of the EU family, at least in the next decade.

    President-elect of the EC, Ursula Von der Leyen, announced that the EU will commit to the Enlargement and integration of the Western Balkan (WB) countries. The failure to adopt a decision on North Macedonia and Albania’s EU aspirations has conveyed a message to the region which has been echoed for a very long time – NOT YET.

    French President Emmanuel Macron has been the main opponent of any further enlargement of the European Union “until the Union itself undergoes a deep reforma new methodology for accession negotiations that would make them less technocratic”. No details for this proposal have been shared. It also remains unclear whether this would apply also to countries which are currently negotiating accession, such as Serbia and Montenegro.

    Another point of disagreement between the EU leaders was the decoupling of North Macedonia and Albania which would grant the start of negotiations only to North Macedonia, as Albania, according to some leaders, was “not there yet”. The French government was not alone in pointing out the enlargement fatigue and the problems with the rule of law in some of the states that joined after 2004 (Poland, Hungary). Also,  France is insisting on a strict application of the criteria for membership during the negotiation and crafting new instruments to better monitor the rule of law.

    In his recent visit to Belgrade, President Macron warned of “rising tension” in the region, referring to Russia’s enhanced presence and aspiration to capitalise on the still unresolved dispute between Serbia and Kosovo. A year ago, he addressed the public in North Macedonia to encourage the voters to have their say in the referendum on the name change, praising the “courage of the leaders and the central position of the Prespa Agreement in the country’s plans for the future”.

    The strong positioning against enlargement in the near future pretty much contradicts this and has been perceived as hypocrisy among the public.

    In the aftermath of the disappointing week, the fear of the consequences of this failure for the two countries, but also for the whole region, is rising. The slammed door by the EU to these countries has been seen as an open invitation for other actors in the East to take advantage and create further instability in the region. It’s neither new nor unknown that Russia, China, Turkey and UAE have laid their hands on the region in various forms to influence the cultural, religious, educational and economic development of these countries.

    Moreover, having no prospects for EU membership is encouraging young people to leave their country to go to Europe as “EU is not coming to them”. With already devastating figures of brain drain in all Balkan countries, the poor economic development, political and social environments and shattered European dreams, the youngest generations are rapidly losing hope that they can also become European citizens.

    Since the Feira summit held in Portugal in 2000, the WB countries have been considered as potential candidates for EU membership. So far, only Montenegro and Serbia have started accession negotiations, in 2012 and 2014, respectively.

    Albania and North Macedonia are expecting to start negotiations (Albania has been a candidate for 5 years and North Macedonia for 14 years!). Bosnia & Herzegovina has not received its candidate status yet. Kosovo is not allowed to apply for membership under Article 49 of the Treaty on the EU, as the state is not recognized by 5 EU member states.

    In the particular case of North Macedonia, it went through an extremely complicated and painful process of reaching a deal with Greece on the name issue, which was also a precondition for its NATO membership. Moreover, after the adoption of the new name into the Constitution with the votes of MPs who received an amnesty for their alleged roles in the violent storming of Macedonian parliament in April 2018, the friendship treaty with Bulgaria, it seemed that the country deserved to be given the green light into their EU aspirations. As a result, many EU leaders expressed their “embarrassment” with the EU failing to fulfil its promises and losing its credibility in the region.

    With the next opportunity for discussions scheduled to take place in Zagreb May 2020, it is yet to be seen if the Council intends to legitimately discuss future steps, or is merely flying a flag of false hope to all candidate countries. The prime minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, expressing his “disappointment with the unjust decision,” has called for snap elections, which will bring more uncertainty to the future of the governing constellations, and the ensuing reform process.

    The former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the government led by VMRO DPMNE publicly expressed that there are voices inside the party deliberating how to revert the Prespa Agreement if they come into power.

    Embodying the frustration of the country in this seemingly never-ending process, the foreign minister Nikola Dimitrov asked the EU to be straightforward if there is no more European future foreseen for the WB countries, bluntly stating “the citizens deserve to know”.

    And as we know, hope is the last to die. Because it would be a failure of a historic magnitude if the Western Balkan countries, in the eyes of the EU, would turn out to have been heroes just for one day.

    Photo by Oliver Cole on Unsplash

    Katerina Jakimovska Balkans Enlargment EU Member States European Union

    Katerina Jakimovska

    Albania and North Macedonia: heroes just for one day?

    Blog

    21 Oct 2019

  • For centuries the Western Balkans region has been a place of origin for migration into Europe as well as a transit route to Europe for migrants coming from other regions of the world. The 2015–16 migration crisis brought the region into the spotlight as large numbers of migrants used the Balkan migration route on their way to Western Europe.

    Individual countries and the EU institutions developed weak and often contradictory responses to the crisis. This has had a negative effect on the Balkan peoples’ perception of the EU, which had previously been positive.

    On a symbolic level the migration crisis has revealed the fragile relationship between the EU and the Western Balkan states. In the future, EU policy should focus on developing an integrated strategy for managing its external borders and migration, one that prevents member states from pushing back migrants at their borders.

    Read the full article in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Emilio Cocco Balkans Migration

    Emilio Cocco

    Where is the European frontier? The Balkan migration crisis

    Blog

    18 Dec 2017

  • Seven consecutive enlargements, spanning over half a century, have provided geopolitical stability in Europe and facilitated trade and economic growth. Currently, the EU is considering further expansion towards the Western Balkans and Turkey. In this process, the EU is weighing fundamental values against security concerns, public scepticism in some member states and past experience of letting in countries that were not prepared.

    In addition the economic, security and refugee crises are making the EU more cautious about enlarging further. The present paper considers options for further EU enlargement, including ending enlargement altogether, offering a reduced membership status (‘membership minus’) and keeping enlargement alive under strict conditions.

    It argues for the third option, under which the EU institutions must make sure that candidate countries not only align their legislation with that of the community but also respect fundamental EU values in the economic, political and legal spheres. Giving a viable prospect for membership is vital to enabling the candidates to maintain reform momentum and their attachment to the West. It is also in the interests of the EU and its member states.

    Balkans Enlargment Foreign Policy

    The Long March Towards the EU: Candidates, Neighbours and the Prospects for Enlargement

    Research Papers

    19 Apr 2016

  • Walking in the streets of Pristina nowadays, you may be surprised to find a magazine discussing sexuality, Kosovo 2.0, in a region where these issues are usually never discussed. Inside, articles on seduction techniques, on homosexuality and on discrimination against young women; a stark contrast to the reality in the country, where there remains a wall of silence on such topics. The publication of this issue has caused great public discussion and even aggression on the street close to a stand where the magazine was being sold. The culprits were immediately condemned by the courts and by a large part of the population.

    This event exemplifies the pride the European Union (EU) should feel for social dynamics that fall in line with its values. Yet, political and economic advances are slow. The new Juncker Commission stated it would not support the integration of new countries in the EU over the next four years. European public opinion explains that stance partly: support for the integration of new members has fallen to 20-25%. Brussels insists on the need to stabilize a ‘28 nations EU’ — Croatia having recently joined in 2013 — and the need to accelerate the pace of reforms in the area.

    Conditioning the integration of the Western Balkans on progress re; corruption, unemployment and public services makes sense. Rumours abound linking political manipulations to a shootout in the northern Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia town of Kumanovo, leaving twenty-two dead, including eight police officers, on May 9th. In Kosovo, a corruption case opened in 2014 against the rule of law mission EULEX, was used as one of the pretexts for an entrenched institutional stalemate while the rule of law makes little progress. The gains of twenty years of US/EU stabilization efforts are at stake.

    Those gains are now up for grabs. Vladimir Putin is making headway in the Western Balkans as well. The Serbian President presented Putin with the highest honour of the country in October 2014, a ceremony that owes much to the Russian control of Serbian oil and gas companies. Moscow also encourages the secession of the Serb Republic of Bosnia (Republika Srpska), which was ultimately discouraged by Belgrade in 2014 for the sake of its European integration perspectives. Given that growing regional competition, is Europe as decisive as it is demanding? Are we influencing events through assistance injected through our EU missions and delegations?

    The European integration dynamic still works and some Balkan countries, such as Albania, moved towards pre-accession negotiations. The EU brokered an essential agreement between Kosovo and Serbia in 2013. Overall the knack for Europe still outweighs external pressures and ethnic divisions. Nevertheless, Brussels remains cornered by the dilemma of a potential Balkan shift towards Russia and Turkey on one side, and the prerequisite of reforms needed before joining the EU on the other, to prevent a major migration and economic shock. Eventually, bar German activism in the area, Europe offers little love in that uneasy transition period. Few EU politicians travel there to insist that Balkan societies share our values and are part of our family.

    That is a shame. Civil society has finally woken up after decades of communism, ethnic conflicts and peacekeeping interventions. They feel European but still need our attention to progress further as their elites are only viewing policies in a self-serving light. In Bosnia, citizens’ groups’-dubbed “plenum”- have organised anti-government protests since February 2014. A year earlier, the Bulgarian government had fallen due to protests denouncing the rise in electricity bills and rampant corruption. Again, on May 17th, thousands gathered in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to demand the resignation of long serving Prime Minister Gruevski.

    What is Brussels doing in the meantime to show support for democratic and anti-corruption movements? We need to continue to show an interest in the progress made by reformist Balkan politicians or otherwise support popular movements. Only then will the EU foster political alternatives in line with its values and interests, creating the space for further integration in Europe. Failing states on the European continent should not be an option.

    Michael Benhamou Paolo Brandi Balkans Democracy European Union

    Michael Benhamou

    Paolo Brandi

    Western Balkans and Europe: showing the love, finally?

    Blog

    19 May 2015

  • Like elsewhere in Europe, the crisis has affected economic developments in the Western Balkans, from Croatia in the north to Albania in the south. The countries in the region face difficulties such as high unemployment, decreased availability of bank credit and reduced trade. Furthermore, the inability of their political institutions to deal immediately with these economic challenges has reinforced the negative effects of the crisis. What does this mean for the Western Balkans’ accession to and integration within the EU? This paper by Rumiana Jeleva shows that improving the economic situation is an essential precondition for public support for EU integration. At the same time it argues that the pro-European orientation of the Western Balkans ensures that they will continue to look towards the EU, rather than to the US or Russia. This is demonstrated by the fact that they are not merely taking measures to recover from the crisis: they are taking measures that are aligned with European regulations. The Western Balkan countries may have a long way to go to become EU members, but they have proven their commitment to a future within the EU by their pro-European solutions to the crisis. This makes it all the more important for the EU, even in this time of crisis, to continue to support the accession process and bring the Western Balkans closer to the EU.

    Balkans Crisis Economy

    The Impact of the Crisis on the EU Perspective of the Western Balkans

    Research Papers

    28 Nov 2012

  • The dissolution of Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 1990s gave birth to seven independent states in the Western Balkans. After the wars that followed the initial proclamation of independence in several of these countries, a period of consolidation ensued, along with European integration as well as reconciliation efforts. The principal goal of this paper is to explain the reasons that led to the wars in Western Balkans, the main issues that remained in the 2000s and the EU initiatives that were supposed to help in resolving these problematic issues and to facilitate the accession of the countries of the region to the European Union. 

    One of the main goals of the original idea of European integration is defined as preserving peace in the Member States. This research paper argues that the same concept should be applied to the territory of Western Balkans, that is, that the European integration of the region could help to preserve peace in the region while also providing stability and, consequently, political and economic growth. Furthermore, the paper notes the growing need for interdependence amongst all of the European nations and states on different political and societal levels. 

    Moreover, as the main goal of the process of European integration is twofold—consisting of stabilisation as well as accession—the author critically assesses the relative value of the European Union applying either a regional or individual approach to the respective countries in the process of accession. 

    Despite the effort jointly performed by the EU as well as countries from the region, this new study shows that a lot of work will still have to be done before all of the countries become sufficiently mature in a political, economic and societal sense to become members of the European Union.

    Balkans Eastern Europe Neighbourhood Policy

    European Integration of Western Balkans: From Reconciliation To European Future

    Research Papers

    01 Jun 2012