Members' Research Service By / December 29, 2017

EU integration process of the Western Balkans [Topical Digest]

The Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia) have developed long-lasting relations with the EU in their efforts to join the Union.

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Word cloud for European integration
© intheskies / Fotolia

The Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia) have developed long-lasting relations with the EU in their efforts to join the Union. At the 2003 Thessaloniki Summit, the six received unequivocal confirmation of a future within the EU. However, over the years, the EU has adjusted its conditionality, putting a stronger focus on key areas such as rule of law, and democratic governance, to name just two, but expected progress has faltered. Economies have not developed fast enough, either. The overall slow pace of reforms, the increasingly uncertain domestic context, coupled with growing influence of external actors like Russia, Turkey and others, and the EU’s own difficulties have complicated the case for enlargement. In recent months, the Western Balkans have come under the spotlight of EU attention. In January 2017, the European Parliament’s AFET committee held a debate on the tensions in the region. In March, the European Council sent a positive signal of support to the Western Balkan Six, and the Commission President, in his State of the Union address, highlighted their credible enlargement perspective.
Many challenges remain, but 2018 promises new dynamics in the enlargement process. The Western Balkans are a priority of the upcoming Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU. The European Commission will adopt a strategy for the region in early 2018, and the next enlargement package is due in the spring. Moreover, two dedicated summits will be held in Sofia and in London, the latter as part of the Berlin process. This renewed EU engagement, if backed with strong local determination to carry out reforms, could lead to advances on each country’s EU path. Accession talks are ongoing with Montenegro (now a NATO member) and Serbia. Albania expects to start accession talks soon, and FYR Macedonia is striving to catch up with reforms and resolve its name issue with Greece to unblock its EU bid. BiH is completing its questionnaire for obtaining candidate status, and Kosovo plans to apply for it in 2018.

The 751 Members of the European Parliament represent EU citizens’ interests on an extremely wide range of, often complex, policy issues. To help them in their work, the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) provides independent, objective and authoritative analysis of and research on these issues. As Members’ time is very limited, and the amount of analysis available sometimes overwhelming, EPRS publishes short Topical Digests of published material whenever an issue arrives at the top of the policy agenda.
In 2017 this included providing digests to coincide with High-Level Conferences organised by Parliament’s President, Antonio Tajani (EPP, Italy), on topics such as EU relations with Africa, clean energy for Europe, and tourism. A digest of analytical material was also prepared for the European Week of Regions and Cities, as well as for the Social Summit in Gothenburg. Other major issues which warranted a digest of coverage during the year include developments in EU security and counter-terrorism policies and tax avoidance and tax evasion in the wake of the Paradise and Panama papers scandals. Digests were also prepared on EU development policy, and the EU’s relations with the Western Balkans. EU policy on sport, and the EU disability strategy complete this year’s collection of handy guides to EPRS publications – designed with Members of the European Parliament in mind, but available to everybody.

2016 Enlargement package: Prospects for the Western Balkans
Briefing by Velina Lilyanova, January 2017
The Commission’s 2016 enlargement package focused on complex long-term reforms as part of the ‘fundamentals first’ approach, and highlighted that enlargement policy continues to deliver results, albeit slowly and unevenly.

Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA II)
‘How the EU budget is spent’ briefing by Martin Svášek, June 2017
IPA II helps candidate and potential candidate countries to adopt the reforms needed to qualify for EU membership. Under the current MFF (2014 to 2020), the IPA II allocation is €11 698.67 million, or 1.8 % of the total MFF.

Read this Topical digest on ‘EU integration process of the Western Balkans‘ in PDF.

Anti-corruption efforts in the Western Balkans
Briefing by Velina Lilyanova, April 2017
Anti-corruption reform is a key EU requirement and while it has proven to be an incentive for reforms, the latest assessments show that corruption continues to permeate the region.

Media freedom trends 2017: Western Balkans
‘At a glance’ note by Velina Lilyanova, May 2017
Media freedom continues to be undermined by systematic shortcomings, and remains a priority reform area. In recent years, the region has seen a trend of media deterioration and has not made progress in addressing challenges.

Youth challenges and opportunities in the Western Balkans
Briefing by Velina Lilyanova, September 2017
Young people from the region are confronted with multiple challenges: high unemployment levels, outdated education systems, ‘brain drain’ and poor intra-regional mobility, all of which require urgent measures to be taken.

External actors influence in the Western Balkans
‘At a glance’ notes by Gisela Grieger, Velina Lilyanova, Philippe Perchoc and Martin Russell
The six Western Balkan states aspire to join the EU, but a variety of external actors, such as the United States, Russia, Turkey, China and Saudi Arabia, are also active in the region and their role is not be under-estimated. Some of them, building on historical, cultural, economic or religious ties, have sought greater involvement in recent years, raising controversy and concerns about the potential consequences for the region.

Further reading

The Berlin Process and the Trieste summit 2017
‘At a glance’ note by Velina Lilyanova, July 2017
The Western Balkans’ Berlin process: A new impulse for regional cooperation
Briefing by Velina Lilyanova, July 2016
Rights and empowerment of women in the Western Balkans
Briefing by Velina Lilyanova, June 2017
EU enlargement, Western Balkans and Turkey: What Think Tanks are thinking
Briefing by Marcin Grajewski, October 2017
The Western Balkans and the EU: Enlargement and challenges
Briefing by Velina Lilyanova, September 2016

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