“EU and WB in 2019” forecasting event: How accurate have been the predictions?

Western Balkans Summit in Berlin; Photo: Tanjug / Marina Maksimović

In December 2018, more than 30 of the most influential opinion makers from the region and EU gathered in Belgrade to make their predictions about the trends and dynamics of policy developments in 2019.

During the closed part of the event, organised by the European Fund for the Balkans, Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) and the European Western Balkans, the expected events in developments in 2019 were discussed at length, and our portal summarized the conclusions in the form of predictions.

Almost seven months into the new year, after most of the important developments of the year have already taken place, it is time to go back to the predictions and see how well they have aged.

Prediction: Prespa Agreement will be successfully ratified, positively influencing Macedonian integration into EU and NATO

Reality: On 11 January 2019, Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia adopted constitutional amendments with the required two-thirds majority, changing its name to the Republic of North Macedonia. Greek Parliament followed suit two weeks later, ratifying the Prespa Agreement signed in June 2018. This lifted the biggest obstacle to Macedonian accession into NATO, which could be completed as early as December this year.

Alexis Tsipras, Zoran Zaev; Photo: Tanjug / AP / Boris Grdanoski

EU integration will advance more slowly, but the most important step in resolving bilateral disputes has nevertheless been made. The Agreement is expected to stay intact despite the change of government in Athens.

The prediction has been CORRECT.

Prediction: UK will leave the EU on 29 March, future relationship will still require fleshing out

Reality: The Government of Theresa May failed to gain sufficient support for her deal in the Parliament, primarily due to the Irish-backstop clause, prompting the European Council to delay UK’s departure to 31 October. It will be up to new Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson to find a compromise by that time, risking the further rise in popularity of the Brexit Party if unsuccessful. Future relations between UK and EU will certainly remain unresolved for some time after the official exit of the former, which will probably be followed by a transition period.

The prediction has been MOSTLY INCORRECT.

Prediction: Elections for the European Parliament will result in noticeable, albeit still moderate losses for traditional parties, with turnout remaining low

Reality: European People’s Party and Party of the European Socialists suffered worse results in 2019 than five years ago, jointly losing 65 seats. These loses, however, have been mostly made up by the gains of ALDE + Macron coalition (Renew Europe) and the European Greens, while right-wing “Identity and Democracy” group doubled its number of seats, still finishing with only 10% of the MEPs.

European Parliament; Photo: European Union

Compared to national elections, the turnout remained low, but rose for the first time in the history of European Parliament elections, from 43% to 51%.

The prediction has been MOSTLY CORRECT.

Prediction: N. Macedonia and Albania will open negotiations during the June meeting of European Council, no new comprehensive enlargement strategy will be adopted

RealityDespite a significant diplomatic offensive by the officials from Skopje and Athens and an initiative by 13 Members States, European Council decided to postpone the decision by October 2019. German Parliament postponed the discussion to give MPs more time to go through European Commission country reports, while the Dutch Parliament voted against opening of negotiations with Albania. No comprehensive enlargement strategy has indeed been adopted, with the accession process of Serbia and Montenegro seemingly slowing down.

The prediction has been MOSTLY INCORRECT.

Prediction: No breakthrough expected at the Berlin Process Summit in Poznań

Reality: The main takeaways from the meeting in the Polish city of Poznań at the beginning of July were the announcement of the first joint presidency over the Berlin Process, calls for the EU to name every state capture in the region and the support for the opening of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia.

Western Balkans Summit in Poznań; Photo: Flickr / Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland / Tymon Markowski / MSZ

The three-day Summit that consisted of Think Tank ForumCivil Society ForumBusiness ForumMinisterial meetings and Leaders’ Summit, brought the Western Balkans in focus at a time when the EU leaders struggled to choose candidates for top jobs. No major initiative, such as the founding of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office couple of years earlier, took place during the Summit.

The prediction has been CORRECT.

Prediction: The new European Commission will once again be formed by the super-coalition of EPP, S&D and the liberals, it is doubtful that Spitzenkandidaten system will survive

Reality: Ursula von der Leyen, former Defence Minister of Germany, was elected as the new President of the European Commission on 16 July by 383 votes, seven more than a required absolute majority, with the confirming votes coming from EPP, S&D and Renew Europe – however, some of the MEPs from the latter two groups, including the members of German SPD voted against. Von der Leyen was also supported by the ruling parties of Hungary and Poland, while the Greens, the Left and Identity and Democracy voted against. She was a compromise candidate after the Spitzenkandidaten system had been rejected by French President Macron, as well as some EPP leaders. Other EU top jobs were also divided between the tree biggest groups.

The prediction has been CORRECT.

Prediction: Kosovo and Serbia remain in limbo, there will probably be no normalisation agreement by the end of the year

Reality: Despite the effort of Germany and France to revive the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina at the meeting in Berlin on 29 April, there have been no new meetings under the facilitation of the EU, with Presidents Vučić and Thaçi meeting only at the Conferences in Munich and Bratislava. Paris meeting between the leaders of the two countries has been postponed, and the tariffs on goods from Serbia remain one of the biggest obstacles to renewing negotiations. Situation in the North of Kosovo remains unstable.

Aleksandar Vučić, Johannes Hahn and Hashim Thaci; Photo: Twitter / Munich Security Conference

European Commission will not be able to resume full mediation before November, and the election of Josep Borell as the new High Representative has created some unease in Pristina due to Spain’s non-recognition of Kosovo’s independence.

The prediction has been CORRECT.

Prediction: Possible extraordinary election, especially in Serbia and Kosovo, should not be a surprise

Reality: Following the resignation of Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, Kosovo is almost certainly heading towards early elections, two years prior to the regular election year. On the other hand, despite speculations, Serbia is expected to hold regular elections next March (only the third elections after a full four-year period since 1990). Whether the opposition will boycott them remains to be seen. Early elections have been mentioned in North Macedonia as well, but the Government of Zoran Zaev is still in power. The next parliamentary elections both in Macedonia and Montenegro are scheduled for autumn 2020.

The prediction has been MOSTLY CORRECT.

Prediction: Democracy will continue to deteriorate in the region, with differing speed among the countries

Reality: According to European Commission‘s 2019 annual reports, 2019 Freedom in the World Index by Freedom House, Transparency International 2019 Corruption Perception Index and 2019 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, all six countries in the region are still facing serious problems in the areas of rule of law, media freedoms, fight against corruption and democracy. Some progress has been made by North Macedonia, which had been at the bottom of the rankings for years, while the situation in the past three to five years has deteriorated the most in Serbia, which dropped to a “partially free country” category (Freedom House) for the first time since 2000. Other countries registered no serious breakthroughs nor backsliding.

Protesters in front of Radio Television of Serbia; Photo: Tanjug / Dragan Kujundžić

Anti-government protests broke out during the first few months of the year in Albania, Montenegro and Serbia, reflecting political polarisation and dissatisfaction with the ruling parties.

The prediction has been MOSTLY CORRECT.

Prediction: People from the Western Balkans will continue to emigrate to more stable and prosperous countries

Reality: Every trend in recent years shows that the “voting by feet” has been on the rise in the region, and there have been no major actions in the first few months of 2019 to reverse it. The number of economic migrants from the Western Balkan countries to Germany has risen to 66.000 in 2018, and the new immigration laws could only speed up the process. Polls show that most of the young people want to leave their countries in search for a better life, and the perceived constant instability will only exacerbate the trend, commentators point out.

It is TOO EARLY TO TELL, but the prediction will probably turn out to be CORRECT.