BELGRADE – Last week, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, said in his State of the Union speech that the European Union needs to maintain credible enlargement perspective for the Western Balkans. Later he sent a letter to the President of the European Parliament and to the chairperson of the Council of the EU yesterday, announcing that the European Commission plans to create the Strategy for the successful accession of Serbia and Montenegro to the European Union by the end of next year, with a perspective of accession to the EU in 2025.
Srđan Cvijić, Senior Policy Analyist at the Open Society European Policy Institute and a member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), says that Juncker’s speech on 13 September 2017 is “the first time that the Western Balkans accession prospect is clearly stated in one of the State of the European Union speeches”. According to him, “this is in itself a positive development.”
However, Cvijić believes that “without a clear enlargement perspective, the EU’s ability to affect change in the region has been extremely limited at least since 2009-2010. According to him, “we should not hold our hopes too high. Not many in Brussels and the EU Capitals listening to the State of the Union speech and reading Juncker’s Letter of Intent to the President of the European Parliament and the Estonian Prime Minister have understood the mention of 2025 as a deadline for EU membership of the frontrunner candidates Serbia and Montenegro, but rather as the earliest possible date for their accession”.
Cvijić believes that “we should not forget that as recent as a month ago the President of the European Commission in an interview given to Politico EU said that he is not in favor of the western Balkans joining the EU soon.”
Cvijić illustrated his claims about the current state of the EU enlargement process with an anectode. “More than 10 years ago, former German Ambassador to Serbia, late Andreas Zobel, predicted that Serbia will not enter the EU prior to 2025. At the time, suggesting that Serbia will not join the EU before 2025 was locally taken as a provocation. Today, we are talking about it as a positive development.”
According to Cvijić, “local politicians in the Western Balkans pay too much attention to the dates when a lot depends on them, in particular when it comes to Copenhagen criteria for EU accession (e.g. media freedom) and the progress in the rule of law field.” However, as Cvijić says, “they themselves are often the biggest obstacle to a faster EU integration of their countries.”
Cvijić believes that “it is important that a particular emphasis in Juncker’s State of the EU speech and the Letter of Intent is given, apart to stability in the Western Balkans, to the rule of law, fundamental rights and the fight against corruption.”
But, according to Cvijić, statements are not enough. “After Juncker’s speech we expect the EU to pass from words to deeds in its dealings with the candidate countries in the WB and to give as much importance to the real progress in the rule of law field as it did for example to the closure of the Western Balkans migration route in 2015-2016.”
The publication of this article has been supported by the European Fund for the Balkans