The Western Balkans and the European Union
- Gentian EleziGentian EleziDepartment of Politics, University of Tirana
The European integration process of the Western Balkans has been experiencing considerable stagnation since 2010, although the regional states have been formally following the accession stages. In spite of the remarkable achievements in the 2000s in terms of stability and engagement in reforms, the European Union (EU) conditionality policy is experiencing shortcomings in terms of tangible impact. Due also to its internal problems, the EU appears to have lost its shine in influencing domestic political agendas of the Western Balkan countries as in the case of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and has gradually lost the support of citizens in the region. This has had several consequences in terms of rising authoritarian practices, slowing down EU-related reforms and compliance with the acquis, some return to nationalistic rhetoric, and openness to influences of other global actors from the East, which do not necessarily maintain good relations with the EU. The enlargement fatigue that has affected the EU since the 2008 global crisis has had repercussions inside the EU institutions and domestic politics of member states. These changes have been reflected in the Union’s approach towards accession countries, undermining the credibility of the integration process and its commitment to the Western Balkans. The weakening of credibility and predictability on this path, together with the poor state capacities that characterize the Western Balkans, have produced some regress of the democracy indicators.
The EU, with its conditionality, is still a determining factor in the trajectory of the countries of the region. However, there is a need to renew the commitments undertaken on both sides in order to make sure that the European perspective, stability, and democratization in the Western Balkans are irreversible and properly supported. The European Union is still considered the only game in town, but it has to face up to the enlargement fatigue and return to its leading role as an aspirational model for the Western Balkans.