FRIDAY, AUGUST 06 2010
Policy Brief: The Working Group on the Western Balkans
Although the EU and the US agree that the long-term goal for the Western Balkans is European integration, progress has stalled. This series of working group meetings aims at launching a discussion on the hurdles to enlargement in the Western Balkans, the tools available to various international actors in the region, and how these resources might best be applied to reach the goal of integration most efficiently. These meetings, therefore, address issues that are at the core of the making the Transatlantic relationship work. The Working Group is support by a grant from the EU Delegation. This brief is the result of a meeting held in June 2010.
Policy Brief from Meeting I: The Hardest Cases for EU Accession—Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina
Since the second half of 2009, European and American policies towards the Western Balkans seemed to have an historic level of coordination and harmony. Rhetorically, at least, there has been unequivocal agreement on both sides of the
Progress toward this goal has been extremely slow, however. As a baseline for comparison, the countries of Central Europe and the
The EU accession model is facing a difficult challenge in the Western Balkans as a whole, where internal and external obstacles to reform thwart the EU’s conditionality. But in Kosovo and
In theory, the EU accession process offers a distraction from ethnic and territorial concerns because the process forces leaders to focus instead on meeting the technical conditions for membership. Civil society demand for EU accession compels politicians to compromise on the wide range of issues necessary for the state to meet EU standards. However, a different dynamic is at work in
A pattern of international involvement can be observed, in which high-profile initiatives are presented to the political elite and the public, with the result that nothing changes. If progress is made, it can only be seen on paper. The disillusioned external actors retreat for a time, until a new initiative is launched. This episodic involvement and paper progress undermines the credibility of external actors, and damages the credibility of the EU accession project.
To end this stagnation, some working group participants advocated substituting high-profile, “quick-fix” initiatives with incremental changes. These smaller changes may be initially less impressive and may extend the time-frame of the process. Nevertheless, it is hoped that the cumulative effect of all of these small-scale reforms will be a way out of the current impasse. Linking small-scale reforms with clear incentives, as was the case with visa liberalization policy, will help induce political leaders to act.
For this incremental approach to work, it will be important to consider the EU accession process as a series of smaller steps and for all of the actors involved to create a functional and coherent agenda. These other actors (the
The current economic crisis in the EU, the recent institutional reform initiated by the Lisbon Treaty, and other compelling issues are turning the focus away from the Western Balkans. If the EU is seen as less attractive to the Western Balkans, or if it seems indifferent to the region, the EU accession policy will falter. The EU must recognize that there are tools and actors outside the Accession process, and actively engage with them, lest the momentum for accession decline.
Working Group participants discussed how the current economic crisis has dashed the hopes of many countries in the region to follow in the development path of
Part of the problem with the EU-U.S. strategy in the Western Balkans is that it is not clear whether EU accession is a remedy or a goal. Of course, it must be both, but in order for the goal of EU accession to be a remedy for the Western Balkans, there must be a greater focus on the process, rather than the end. Focusing solely on the EU as a goal, creates a binary system, and seems to place the responsibility for enlargement on the EU rather than on the Western Balkan countries. This perspective also gives the EU a reactive, rather than proactive, position, as it is simply there to judge events in the region.
But by flipping the rhetorical switch, it becomes clear that the process involved in acceding to the EU involves activity in the region, not just a decision by the EU. When accession is seen as a process, the many steps involved in EU accession can be presented as a menu of activities that are compatible with EU goals. The Commission already prepares country-specific reports on issues that it needs to address, and these reports should be read by all actors involved as the single voice of the EU in terms of what must be done. With EU accession as a process with many ‘menu’ items to choose from, politicians in the Western Balkans can build an agenda according to their capacity and the many actors that make up the international community can find a sector or issue that they can work on, and ensure that these different elements will eventually push each country further down the path towards the EU.
 As of July, 2010,
 Criticism of the EU for being a cacophony of voices could be assuaged by focusing all policies on the reports. The most recent reports and EU’s strategy can be found here: http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/press_corner/key-documents/reports_nov_2010_en.htm
 A helpful list of negotiation chapters with short descriptions can be found on the European Commission’s website on Enlargement: http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/enlargement_process/accession_process/how_does_a_country_join_the_eu/negotiations_croatia_turkey/index_en.htm#5
Back to list »