EU enlargement towards the Balkans - A Macedonian spring or continued political winter?

2 December 2015

Over the past year, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)’s European Union (EU) integration process has become one of the most worrisome among the Balkan countries aspiring to join the EU, with a stream of unsettling news coming from Skopje, including: revelations of a mass wire-tapping scandal implicating officials at the highest political level and suggesting political interference with the independence of the judiciary; the conduct of elections; media freedom; widespread protests and violence; a weekend-“war”; parliamentary boycott and recent clashes between the police and desperate migrants at the Greek border where a metal fence is being erected. These ongoing situations serve to keep the international community on edge about the potential for broader regional instabilities.

A number of observers of the Balkans and the EU enlargement process have argued that the case of FYROM has been trouble waiting to happen for some time. Since 2005, the name dispute with Greece has prevented the country from opening accession negotiations with the EU. Despite the European Commission’s successive positive recommendations, the country has experienced gradually deteriorating inter-ethnic relations and a rise in authoritarian tendencies, at the detriment to European integration-related reforms and democratic credentials. While the current crises the country is facing might therefore not be all that surprising, it is a concerning situation from the perspective of both the EU and the Balkans region. With this in mind, the European Policy Centre (EPC) in cooperation with Open Society Foundations (OSF) organised this Policy Dialogue with five experts to establish the state of play and consider how policymakers can best proceed in order to return the country to the path of sustainable reforms and Euro-Atlantic integration.