The Western Balkans and the European Union

The sensitive politics of the Western Balkans

The countries of the Western Balkans (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, as well as Kosovo whose status remains undefined) are going through a politically very sensitive time given everything that is currently taking place in Europe, and particularly within the EU. As they stand on the doorstep of EU membership, these countries are trying to maintain a sufficient level of support for the accession process on the domestic front, while also securing alternative options should the project of a united Europe collapse.

The slow pace towards EU membership

The slow pace towards EU membership, as well as uncoordinated signals coming from Brussels and other European capitals, have not contributed to strengthening accession. Overall public sentiment in Germany and other western European countries contradicts Brussels’ claims that the Western Balkans is undeniably a part of Europe. Upcoming elections in France and Germany will directly affect conditions in the Western Balkans as their outcome will send a clear message of what the region can expect in the future.

Slowing down the European integration of the Western Balkans will directly affect both the political and security situation in the region which remains delicate. Although the wars of 1990s are very much in the past and unlikely to be repeated, they have as their legacy deeply disturbed relations between the nations of the region resulting in lingering tensions which surface occasionally. There is no power vacuum in the Balkans. The extent to which Brussels is able to clearly define its promises and fulfil them will determine how much room is left for other factors such as Russia or Turkey to move in. The migrant crisis has little connection with the eventual entry of the Western Balkans countries into the EU but could be used by populist political movements in Europe as part of their xenophobic platforms in the quest for power.

A really carefull Brussels

Brussels is trying to maintain sufficient popular support for the future integration of the Western Balkans in order to ensure that the accession process maintains a steady course despite the fact that some of the most important European countries have signalled that no further movement in this regard is to be expected in the near future. The political situation in the countries of the Western Balkans, including some neighbours already members of the EU, is not fully stable. Some of them, in fact, view EU membership as a means of solving unresolved political and territorial issues. Should they be denied membership, these countries could turn to other sources to ensure their stability.

Therefore, Brussels will have to figure out how to simultaneously maintain the stability of its own Member States and strengthen that of the Western Balkans. Should it fail to do the latter, the Western Balkans would likely quickly transform into a destabilizing factor for the whole of Europe. History has already witnessed this phenomenon in the past and the political leadership in the region is well versed in how to implement it.

Serbian parliament, Belgrade. Photo by Lauras Eye / CC BY-ND 2.0

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Mirko Stefanovic

Reseacher at CEI-IUL. Associate Professor at Law School of University NOVA in Lisbon. A Lawyer by education, he served as State Secretary and General Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia. Between 1992 and 2001 he was Ambassador of Yugoslavia in Israel and between 2011 and 2015 he was Ambassador of Serbia in Portugal.

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