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Escaping the Transactional Trap: The way forward for EU Enlargement

EU enlargement / POLICY BRIEF
Corina Stratulat , Marko Kmezić , Srdjan Cvijic , Gjergji Vurmo , Matteo Bonomi , Zoran Nechev , Natasha Wunsch , Miran Lavrič

Date: 26/11/2021
Citizens of countries in the Western Balkans are still, overall, positive about the prospects of their countries joining the European Union. However, the path to EU membership is a long one and at the moment the people in the Balkans are caught between a rock and a hard place. The EU accession process seems endless and current member states are doing little to improve that; some appear to be putting more obstacles in the way. 

The de-politicisation of the accession process is having unintended consequences: it does not allow voters to hold their elected representatives to account. This is the rock. The hard place is made up of the governments, politicians and institutions in the Balkan countries, which are the focal point of citizens’ dissatisfaction. Citizens of Balkan countries are sceptical about their governments’ commitment to European integration and this undermines the value of democracy. 

To move beyond the rock and the hard place, the European Commission must speed up the implementation of the revised enlargement methodology, with more meaningful incentives to continue reform. The authors suggest four ways by which the EU can put its words into action, improve the enlargement process and persuade the citizens of the Western Balkans countries to believe in a joint European future that goes beyond a transactional relationship with the EU: 

  1. By always keeping promises: When pledged rewards are due, they have to be delivered.
  2. By following-up good on criticism, especially with regards to ‘state capture’ and infringements of the rule of law and media freedom. 
  3. By treating allies like partners: inviting the Balkans to participate in the Conference on the Future of Europe, for example.
  4. By showing the example: The EU should live by the democratic values set to the region. 

This paper was first published by the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG).

Read the full paper here.

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