European Western Balkans
European Integration

POLITICO: Enlargement is not high on the EU’s agenda, but that isn’t stopping its would-be members

POLITICO, an American journalism organization, created an analysis of prospects of EU expansion for East and Southeast European countries. They assess that all Western Balkans countries (except Kosovo) have 50 percent or higher chance of joining the EU in the next ten to fifteen years. 

POLITICO opinion is that the EU’s golden age of expansion is over, but that policy update is coming in spring 2018. They state that: “While national governments would like to ensure political stability in the EU’s neighborhood, they have no appetite to let those countries join before 2025. For some countries, such as Turkey, there’s almost no chance of ever joining. The European Parliament and countries such as Austria are already trying to suspend membership negotiations with Turkey”.

Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner responsible for EU enlargement, said that “(he) won’t set a speed limit on the road to Europe,” and he insisted that “each candidate defines speed of joining via (its) own merit”.

At the same time, Hahn told a Western Balkans policy summit hosted by Friends of Europe on December 7, that there is a majority against EU enlargement in most EU countries. Instead of pushing EU national governments before they are ready Hahn suggested candidate countries focus on economic development and anti-corruption efforts.

POLITICO did an interview with Shada Islam, Europe director at Friends of Europe, and said she was “pessimistic”. “I think we need to stop pretending and accept that there will be no new enlargement for many years — and that all these countries have a long way to go before they meet any of the key membership criteria”, Islam said, adding that given six to 10 years of continuous effort, the six Balkan nations may have a chance at membership.

Western Balkans countries see themselves as rooted in Europe and warn that the EU will hurt itself if it fails to draw them close. Tanja Miščevič, Serbia’s chief membership negotiator, said “The Schengen system cannot function, and energy union cannot be completed, without the Western Balkan countries”.

Ditmir Bushati, Albania’s foreign minister, said that while it is clear “No one will be able to join EU in foreseeable future” it would be dangerous to allow Russia to fill a vacuum in his region.

POLITICO names Albania as a surprise front-runner in the membership race, because they are already a NATO member and mostly free from the complications of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

Several EU officials POLITICO spoke to suggested that with Brexit and a new budget to negotiate and implement from 2020-2026, the EU simply doesn’t have room on its plate until 2027 to consider new members.

Goran Svilanović, a former Serbian foreign minister, and now head of the Regional Cooperation Council, said he is “very frustrated” by this approach and says that it would be better to “start negotiating. Keep us busy. Help us be successful”.

Journalist Ryan Heath concludes his article with short pros-and-cons section for each potential new EU member.

Original article available through link.

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