European Western Balkans

The experts from EU and Western Balkans propose six solutions for a faster EU enlargement process

EU flag; Photo: Markus Spiske for Unsplash

VIENNA – The credibility of the current EU enlargement process in the Western Balkans is at a historic low. The EU and its member states need to focus on a visionary and pragmatic cost-benefit analysis as a rational basis for the revitalization of the enlargement process, stated in a document “What is to be done? The war, the Western Balkans and the EU“, published by Institute for Human Science and ERSTE Foundation. The authors of this document propose six key solutions to improve and accelerate the European Union’s enlargement process.

A group of experts from the region and EU member states proposes that the EU focus on fundamentals and start applying the European Commission’s new methodology provisions, which stipulates that the opening and closing negotiating clusters, and progress in membership negotiations depends on rule of law.

According to the document, this principle is present in the new methodology. Still, practice in the case of Montenegro and Serbia has shown that the Commission and member states often turn a blind eye with regard to implementation.

“The recent record of some member states in these areas also renders the focus on fundamentals even more difficult, as the perception is that countries such as Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and others are worse than the candidates. Inclusion in the EU monitoring mechanisms such as the Rule of Law report, EU justice scoreboard, the European Semester and others in order to counter the perception that enlargement risks diluting democratic standards in the EU. This will allow the candidate countries the opportunity to not only compete between themselves but to compare themselves with the best performers in the EU while detecting their reforms shortcomings and pitfalls”, the authors stated.

The second recommendation proposes gradual phasing-in of candidate countries in various sectors of EU integration would build institutional capacity and promote cooperation and trust between candidates and member states. An example of this could be the participation in the EU internal market as an interim priority objective for all interested accession countries.

“Regardless of their status, once countries align with economic policies regulating the internal market cluster and the economic criteria and associated chapters within the fundamental cluster, as well as comply with the necessary economic standards, the reward should be to participate in the internal market as full members”, the document said.

Thirdly, it is proposed that the heads of state, prime ministers and ministers of the Western Balkan countries be allowed to participate in regular meetings with colleagues from the EU actively, but until membership, without the right to vote.

A group of experts suggests that the countries of the Western Balkan be given access to the EU structural funds, which only member states know have access to. The authors recalled that the average Croatian citizen receives 25 times more from the EU than citizens of Serbia or other candidate countries. This change would gradually reduce the standards gap between member states and candidates.

In light of Russia’s aggression on Ukraine, it is proposed that further progress in the negotiations be conditioned by full harmonization of the candidate countries’ foreign policy with the EU’s foreign policy. The experts added that, as in the case of the rule of law, the lack of progress in foreign policy negotiations would halt further progress in other clusters.

Finally, in order to prevent some EU member states from abusing the negotiation process to resolve bilateral issues and disputes with candidate countries, it is proposed to introduce qualified majority voting in the enlargement area.

“The need to protect and, at the same time, streamline the decision-making process against the abusive use of veto powers is imperative. Introducing qualified majority voting in the Council — 55 percent of member states representing at least 65 percent of the EU population — for all intermediary stages of accession negotiations to validate the progress of a candidate country would make the process fairer and more effective. A decision on admitting a candidate country into the EU would still require unanimity”, the authors proposed.

A co-authors of this document are members of Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) and experts from region – Nikola Dimitrov, Srđan Cvijić, Zoran Nechev. The co-authors from the EU member states are Isabelle Ioannides, Oana Popescu Zamfir, Valbona Zaneli, Stefan Lenhe and Rosa Balfour.

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