Western Balkans needs a human development-centered EU enlargement model

European Commission; Photo: Pixabay

TIRANA/BERLIN/ROME – “While the hope is that the new methodology for the EU enlargement in the Western Balkans could re-establish EU consensus on enlargement and revive its exhausted policy toward the Western Balkan region, there are already clear signs that it will all end up as another paper-pushing exercise”, argue the authors of “Avoiding the Trap of Another Paper Exercise: Why the Western Balkans Need Human Development-centered EU Enlargement Model”, released earlier this month by the Research and Cooperation and Development Institute (CDI), German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) and Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI).

The authors of the paper are Matteo Bonomi, Research Fellow at IAI; Ardian Hackaj, Director of CDI and Coordinator of Tirana Connectivity Forum, and Dušan Reljić, the Head of the Brussels Office of SWP.

The authors argue that without tackling the root causes of the current situation, notably the enduring socio-economic entropy and political backsliding in the Western Balkans, this new move will only diminish the leverage of the EU. “What is needed is a human development-centered EU enlargement model for the Western Balkans”, they stress. 

The authors also remind that the French veto and the “non-paper” drew much criticism from other EU member states and sent shock waves across the Western Balkans. 

“With the new methodology, the Commission hopes to revive the enlargement policy and counter divisive trends within the EU by building a renewed consensus on the way forward. The new strategy paper will have to navigate a narrow passage between those who, like France, have demanded a radical overhaul of the enlargement policy”, assess the authors.

They also underline that no new EU methodology of enlargement in the Western Balkans can substitute for lack of political will.

“What is necessary is a clear political mandate that would represent the fundament for updating and renewing a workable EU enlargement policy. The core of this needs to be a model centered on the development and investment in human capital so that the Western Balkan citizens can (re)gain economic and political autonomy vis-à-vis the “state capturers”.

“The new approach to enlargement in the Western Balkans ought to be able to secure the geopolitical anchoring of the region to the EU by linking this political, economic and social space structurally with that of the EU. At the same time, it is essential that it also provides the convergence mechanism needed to boost growth in the Western Balkans”, conclude Reljić, Hackaj, and Bonomi in their new policy paper on EU methodology.

The European Commission is to present its proposal on the new EU enlargement methodology on February 5.