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The Road to Europe Exploring European Union Candidacy in the Western Balkans

August 2021


The Road to Europe Exploring European Union Candidacy in the Western Balkans The Road to Europe: Exploring European Union Candidacy in the Western Balkans

Undergraduate Research Report funded by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies Keough School of Global Affairs University of Notre Dame August 2021


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About this report

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About this report Recommended citation: The Road to Europe: Exploring European Union Candidacy in the Recommended citation: The Road Europe:Institute Exploring in the Western Balkans. Notre Dame, IN:to Nanovic for European Union Studies,Candidacy 2021. Western Notre Dame, IN: Nanovic Institute forStudies European Studies, 2021. About Balkans. the Nanovic Institute for European

About the Nanovic Institute for European Studies The Nanovic Institute for European Studies, an integral part of Notre Dame’s Keough School of The Nanovic Institute forenrich European Studies, anculture integralofpart Notre Dame’s Keough of Global Affairs, exists to the intellectual the of University of Notre DameSchool by Global Affairs, exists to enrich the for intellectual of thetoUniversity Notre Dame creating an interdisciplinary home students culture and faculty explore theofevolving ideas,by creating interdisciplinary homethat forshape students and faculty to pursue exploreits themission, evolving cultures, an beliefs, and institutions Europe today. To theideas, Institute cultures, institutions thatatshape To pursue its mission, the Institute works to beliefs, promoteand European studies NotreEurope Dame, today. transform its undergraduates, professionalize works to promote European studies at Notre Dame, transform its and undergraduates, professionalize its graduate students, foster its interdisciplinary faculty research, build its international its graduate students, foster its interdisciplinary faculty research, and build its international network. network.

The views expressed in this report are strictly those of the individual authors and do not reflect Theopinions, views expressed this report are strictly of the individual authors and do not the official in policy, or position of the those Nanovic Institute for European Studies or reflect the the opinions, policy, or position of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies or the University of official Notre Dame. University of Notre Dame.


Table of Contents Abstract.................................................................................................................................................................................................... 4 Introduction............................................................................................................................................................................................. 5 Historical Background......................................................................................................................................................................... 5 EU Acession Process Overview......................................................................................................................................................... 7 Inter-Balkan Relations........................................................................................................................................................................ 9 EU Concerns......................................................................................................................................................................................... 12 External Actors.................................................................................................................................................................................... 15 Conclusion............................................................................................................................................................................................. 18 Further Reading.................................................................................................................................................................................. 19 Contributors......................................................................................................................................................................................... 20


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Abstract Since the end of the Yugoslav wars, the Western Balkan states have expressed interest in joining the European Union. The EU has begun accession negotiations with four of these countries (the Republics of Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia, and Montenegro) and has listed two more as potential candidates for accession (the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Kosovo). Despite a few initial successes, internal and external challenges have stalled negotiations. The lack of recent progress has raised questions about the feasibility of accession and the consequences of continued EU expansion. This report, along with its complementary digital series, studies Western Balkan trends and analyzes EU accession bids on both a macro and micro level. An examination of historical trends and current political statements finds membership mutually beneficial for the Balkans and the EU, as well as for progress on reform and regional cooperation. The report finds, however, that several domestic and international obstacles render EU accession unlikely in the short term for much of the Balkans.

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The Road to Europe

Introduction The European Union is a landmark achievement of institution building. First a small economic cooperative, the EU now encompasses much of continental Europe, promoting liberal democracy and a competitive market economy to create continental alignment. While the EU has expanded substantially in the years following the Cold War, several Western Balkan countries have yet to become member states. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia currently seek EU membership. Despite a shared desire for accession, Balkan membership bids have faltered during recent years as crime, corruption, and lingering ethnic tensions threaten to derail the process. Regional disputes and bilateral issues between these countries and current member states pose further hurdles, as does the lack of coherent EU expectations. The increased presence of Russia, China, Turkey, and radical Islamic groups within the Western Balkans as well as the spread of illiberalism within more recent EU member states all additionally challenge the accession process.

Historical Background For much of the twentieth century, the Balkan states, except Albania, were constituent republics of Yugoslavia. A federal socialist state during the middle decades of the twentieth century,1 Yugoslavia caused problems for Western Europe and the Soviet bloc through the so-called “Non-Aligned Movement,” essentially pledging neutrality during the Cold War.2 The end of this decades-long ideological conflict saw increased ethnic nationalism and a stagnating

Tim Judah, “History—World Wars: Yugoslavia: 1918-2003,” BBC, February 7, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/yugoslavia_01.shtml. 2 Radoslav Stojanovic, “The Emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement: A View from Belgrade,” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law 13, no. 3 (1981): 443. 1

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economy, leading to Yugoslavia’s dissolution. 3 Yugoslavia’s constituent republics declared independence, wishing to establish their own national identities. Belgrade, the political and economic center, sought to preserve Yugoslavia’s federal system and resisted attempts at independence. Each federal republic was ethnically heterogeneous, and independence suddenly thrust several ethnic groups into minority status. Ethnic tensions and a growing desire to create “pure” states led to ethnic cleansing and widespread turmoil.4 While peace agreements ended the violence by the end of the century, these frictions have lingered, dominating the current regional political, economic, and cultural dynamics. By the late 1990s, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and North Macedonia all achieved independence from Yugoslavia. Serbia and Montenegro continued in a joint federation until Montenegro voted to leave in 2006.5 Kosovo controversially declared independence in 2008, a move Serbia heavily opposed and one that lacks full international recognition.6 Slovenia joined the EU in 2004, followed by Croatia in 2013. At Thessaloniki, Greece in 2003, the EU identified the other former Yugoslav states, along with Albania, as potential candidates. Today, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Albania are formally recognized as candidates, while Bosnia and Kosovo remain only potential candidates. In recent years, the Balkans have made little progress toward accession.7

Valerie J. Bunce, “141.The Violent Dissolution of Yugoslavia: A Comparative Perspective,” The Wilson Center: Meeting Reports, October 1997, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/141-the-violent-dissolution-yugoslavia-comparative-perspective. 4 Nikolina Zenovic, “The Lasting Impact of the Breakup of Yugoslavia,” EuropeNow, June 3, 2020, https://www.europenowjournal.org/2020/06/02/the-lasting-impact-of-the-breakup-of-yugoslavia/. 5 Orlando Crowcroft, “In the Western Balkans, Ethnic Nationalism Threatens Path to Europe,” EuroNews, June 6, 2021, https://www.euronews.com/2021/06/06/in-the-western-balkans-ethnic-nationalism-threatens-the-path-to-europe. 6 Nicholas Kulish and C. J. Chivers, “Kosovo Is Recognized but Rebuked by Others.” The New York Times, February 19, 2008, www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/world/europe/19kosovo.html. 7 “Western Balkans,” European Commission, July 1, 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/info/research-and-innovation/strategy/strategy-2020-2024/europe-world/international-cooperatio n/western-balkans_en. 3

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EU Accession Process Overview The EU accession process is long and complex, and it takes countries at least several years to fully join. Generally speaking, the procedure comprises three phases: candidacy, negotiation, and accession.8 This process requires unanimous consent among EU member states, compliating candidate countries’ progression through each phase. Each member state must agree to start negotiations with the candidate country, where a timeline and criteria are determined. Members must then ascertain whether the candidate’s laws meet the EU’s standards, and each state ratifies the final accession treaty.9 Meanwhile, there are plenty of opportunities for the process to stall or derail. The negotiation process for each country varies, but all candidate countries must fulfill the Copenhagen criteria, a set of expectations emphasizing democracy, the rule of law, a market economy, and the institutional capacity to implement the EU’s acquis communautaire.10 The most considerable EU expansion came in 2004 when several states from Eastern and Central Europe joined. Romania and Bulgaria followed in 2007 after a transitional period and Croatia in 2013.11 European fears of instability in the former Communist states spurred this expansion; pushing for enlargement would allow these countries to come under the EU framework and democratic precepts. Thus motivated, accession occurred on a relatively accelerated timeline.12 However, while the economic integration has been largely successful, many new EU countries struggle with democracy and the rule of law, even after transitional “Steps towards Joining,” European Commission, December 6, 2016, ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/policy/steps-towards-joining_en. 9 Ibid. 10 Tanja Miščević and Mojmir Mrak, “The EU Accession Process: Western Balkans vs EU-10.” Politička Misao, no. 4 (2017): 185-204. 11 “From 6 to 27 Members,” European Commission, January 31, 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/policy/from-6-to-27-members_en#:~:text=Ten%20new%20countri es%20join%20the,%2C%20Poland%2C%20Slovakia%20and%20Slovenia.&text=The%20organisation%20founded %20in%201957,Italy%2C%20Luxembourg%20and%20the%20Netherlands. 12 Miščević and Mrak,“The EU Accession Process: Western Balkans vs EU-10.” 8

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periods. These challenges have led the EU to impose stricter requirements for future expansion, particularly for the Balkans. Today, Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia are candidate countries, while Bosnia and Kosovo hold “potential candidate status,” which adds additional steps to the process.13 Additionally, the rise of Euroscepticism and expansion fatigue across the continent means that candidate countries and their reforms are subject to a much higher level of scrutiny.14 As a whole, the Western Balkan states’ participation in a myriad of neighborhood initiatives bodes well for their future accession. All six countries participate in two regional agreements not directly affiliated with the EU: The Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) and the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP), marking independent initiatives.15 CEFTA, in particular, indicates the Balkans’ drive towards a Europeanized economy, as it seeks to eliminate various economic barriers and foster stability within the region. Additionally, all Balkan states excluding Montenegro have established a “mini-Schengen Zone,” a positive step between the countries’ executives that envisions free movement in the same way as its EU counterpart.16

“Candidate Countries and Potential Candidates,” European Commission, https://ec.europa.eu/environment/enlarg/candidates.htm. 14 “Steps towards Joining.” 15 “South-East European Cooperation Process - SEECP,” Regional Cooperation Council, 2020, www.rcc.int/pages/111/south-east-european-cooperation-process--seecp; “EU Welcomes Signing of New Central European Free Trade Agreement,” European Commission, December 19, 2006, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_06_1837. 16 Maja Zivanovic, “Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia Sign ‘Mini-Schengen’ Declaration,” Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, October 10, 2019, https://balkaninsight.com/2019/10/10/albania-north-macedonia-serbia-sign-mini-schengen-declaration/. 13

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Inter-Balkan Relations A lack of cooperation surrounding inter-Balkan political affairs proves a significant limitation in the Balkan accession process. The majority of these tensions find root in Serbia, which holds several conflicts with neighboring countries. Perhaps the most contentious and determinant relationship for EU membership is that of Serbia and Kosovo. Despite Kosovan de facto independence for over a decade, Serbia refuses to recognize it as a sovereign state, continually asserting ownership of the region, and impeding Kosovo’s potential EU candidacy.17 New EU policy renders Kosovo’s candidate status dependent on its ability to secure a “legally binding comprehensive agreement on the normalization of [its] relations” with Serbia.18 EU-guided dialogues between the two have been unsuccessful, and the Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić recently declared he would “never” recognize independent Kosovo.19 This uncompromising position has the potential to indefinitely halt both Kosovo’s and Serbia’s chances at EU membership. Serbian ethnic groups present challenges in other Balkan states. Serbian leadership in Bosnia has raised the possibility of secession or redrawing borders; Serbian-Russian intervention in the 2016 attempted assassination of Montenegro’s then-Prime Minister Djukanovic exemplifies EU fears regarding a problematic Serbian population. The EU cannot regard these movements singularly; the dissolution of Yugoslavia resulted in a complex scattering of ethnic groups across new political boundaries in the Balkan states, leaving regional politics intertwined.

Steven Woehrel, Kosovo Historical Background to the Current Conflict, 1. André De Munter, “The Western Balkans: Fact Sheets on the European Union: European Parliament,” European Parliament, November 2020, www.europarl.europa.eu/factsheets/en/sheet/168/the-western-balkans. 19 “Serbia, Kosovo Restart EU-Brokered Talks, Remain Far Apart,” Associated Press, June 15, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/government-and-politics-kosovo-serbia-europe-foreign-policy. 17 18

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The politics of memory fuel many internal issues. Each Western Balkan state has created a national identity built upon a history of conflict with its neighbors. For example, Kosovo finds itself caught between the national myths of Serbia and Albania. Serbia remembers the 1389 Battle of Kosovo and the battle’s reprise in the Yugoslav Wars—both harness religious and cultural ethnic ties.20 Serbs view Albanians as collaborators with the Turks and Americans, but Albanians consider themselves the victims, “humiliated, oppressed…and discriminated against” by the Serbs who have “always been [their] enemy.”21 On the religious side, many Balkan nationalists identify Islam with their imperial Ottoman Turk oppressors. A famous Serbian nationalist song from the Yugoslav wars praises Radovan Karadzic, a convicted war criminal, and calls for the deaths of Bosnian Muslim “Turks.”22 Karadzic led Bosnia’s Serbs in the wars and believed that Bosnia’s Muslims wanted to “dominate” the country and build an “Islamic society,”23 although, historically, the region’s Muslims have been moderate.24 Yet a connection between religion and shared national history—especially amongst Orthodox Serbs—raises the possibility of radical ethnonationalism and religion. Despite these ethnopolitical and religious differences, the recent COVID-19 pandemic is an example of Balkan cohesion. Although the EU initially set aside vaccine funding for the Balkans, by February 2021, the bloc had ostensibly abandoned the region.25 Serbia was then the Anamaria Georgiana and Dutceac Segesten, “Myth, Identity, and Conflict: A Comparative Analysis of Romanian and Serbian Textbooks,” PhD diss., (University of Maryland, 2009), 179. 21 Georgiana and Segesten, “Myth, Identity, and Conflict,” 182. 22 Yiannis Baboulias, “The Balkans Are the World Capital of Islamophobia,” Foreign Policy, April 1, 2019, https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/04/01/the-balkans-are-the-world-capital-of-islamophobia/. 23 Hikmet Karci and Azeem Ibrahim, “The Balkan Wars Created a Generation of Christian Terrorists,” Foreign Policy, May 24, 2019, https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/24/the-balkan-wars-created-a-generation-of-christian-terrorists/. 24 Aristotle Tziampiris, “Assessing Islamic Terrorism in the Western Balkans: The State of the Debate,” Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies 11, no. 2, (2009): 211, 215, https://resolvenet.org/index.php/system/files/2018-11/assessing%20islamic%20terrorism. pdf. 25 Ivana Kottasová, “The European Countries Caught in a Vaccine No Man’s Land.” Cable News Network, February 19, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/19/europe/western-balkans-vaccines-russia-china-eu-intl/index.html. 20

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most successful of its neighbors, acquiring enough of a robust combination of Chinese, Russian, and Western vaccines to deliver to its entire population. It then offered vaccines to the rest of the Balkans.26 While externally, this scene presented a unified Balkan region, internal geopolitics continued to play an important role, as Kosovo was wary of Serbian vaccines.27 Nonetheless, the Serbian rollout vaccinated over 40,000 Balkan citizens, signaling the benefits and potential for regional cooperation.28 While most Balkan countries work together on an inter-regional political level, fragmented regional relations exhibited by national politics concern the EU. When considering these ethnopolitical tensions in light of accession, perhaps the biggest question concerns identity: is it possible for the Balkan states to recognize themselves as part of a greater European Union? Ilirjan Bimo, a former officer of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), maintains that Balkan EU accession is an ideal opportunity for ethnic groups to be connected.29 Indeed, promisingly high Balkan support for EU accession is a positive indicator for each candidate’s status.

Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, et al., “The Geopolitics of Covid Vaccines in Europe’s Eastern Neighbourhood,” The European Council on Foreign Relations, January 27, 2021, https://ecfr.eu/article/the-geopolitics-of-covid-vaccines-in-europes-eastern-neighbourhood/. 27 Ana E. Juncos, “Vaccine Geopolitics and the EU's Ailing Credibility in the Western Balkans,” Carnegie Europe, July 8, 2021, https://carnegieeurope.eu/2021/07/08/vaccine-geopolitics-and-eu-s-ailing-credibility-in-western-balkans-pub-84900. 28 Marko Čadež, “Serbia’s Vaccine Diplomacy Can Build Balkan Trust,” Center for European Policy Analysis, June 4, 2021, cepa.org/serbias-vaccine-diplomacy-can-build-balkan-trust/. 29 Ilirjan Bimo (former officer of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX)) interviewed by Grace Rozembajgier, June 28, 2021. 26

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EU Concerns The Western Balkan states demonstrate resolve and commitment to attaining EU membership, as displayed by their individual (potential) candidate statuses and compliance with EU demands. However, several internal and EU-centered issues complicate the process. In the Western Balkans, corruption and organized crime influence national politics, while bilateral tensions concern the EU, leading members to question enlargement philosophy. Along similar lines, the EU as a whole faces criticism for the poor handling of noncompliant members, simultaneously drawing fire from disenchanted candidate countries. Corruption plays a significant role in Western Balkan politics. Despite individual states’ progress in various reforms, the EU has expressed dissatisfaction with many internal trends across the region. Overt events, such as Kosovo’s dissolution of the Special Anti-Corruption Task Force and Albanian President Ilir Meta’s recent impeachment, prove a lack of Balkan preparation for EU member states.30 Bosnian Constitutional failures and a weak Kosovan state structure lead to further trepidation over the purported preparedness of the region.31 Ethnic and political divisions fuel organized crime and gang activities, intimidating media outlets and influencing national politics in every candidate state. While the judiciaries of each state work to correct misconduct, they too experience setbacks in their EU assignments. The EU demands an independent judiciary for membership, and while certain efforts show promise, others fall short of optimal conditions. Reforms in Albania benefit from ongoing 30 “Kosovo: Freedom in the World 2021 Country Report,” Freedom House, 2021, https://freedomhouse.org/country/kosovo/freedom-world/2021; “Albania Parliament Impeaches President for Violating Constitution,” Al Jazeera, June 9, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/9/ilir-meta-who-held-the-largely-ceremonial-role-has-regularly-cl. 31 Dr. Benjamin Denison (assistant director and senior research associate at the Notre Dame International Security Center) interviewed by Joey Spiecher, June 16, 2021; “Candidate Countries and Potential Candidates.”

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official dismissals, yet North Macedonia struggles with governmental cronyism and nepotism.32 Media censorship and partisanship are also persistent problems: North Macedonia experiences a consistent strain of polarization and unreliability similar to Albania’s issues of unsatisfactory amendments to media freedom laws.33 Bilateral grievances stemming from opposing historical and cultural claims continue to heavily influence Western Balkan states’ accession prospects. The most prominent are the Kosovo-Serbia question and the ongoing dispute between Bulgaria and North Macedonia. This dispute affects Albania as well, as it has been paired with North Macedonia for negotiations.34 Should Bulgaria continue to veto North Macedonian negotiation attempts, Olivér Várhelyi, the European Commission Enlargement Officer, has said decoupling Albania from North Macedonia may be a possible route to explore.35 Agron Tare, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in Albania, describes EU accession as a “continual process, one you have to deserve step-by-step. [The EU] made this mistake with Romania and Bulgaria.”36 In referring to the abuse of unilateral power and democratic backsliding, Tare could also have included Hungary and Poland, who continue to violate EU precepts. The EU and Hungary maintain frosty relations due to the latter’s refusal to aid refugees

“Albania 2020 Report,” European Commission, October 6, 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/default/files/albania_report_2020.pdf; “North Macedonia 2020 Report,” European Commission, October 6, 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/default/files/north_macedonia_report_2020.pdf. 33 “North Macedonia: Freedom in the World 2021 Country Report.” Freedom House, 2021, https://freedomhouse.org/country/north-macedonia/freedom-world/2021; “Albania 2020 Report.” 34 Valentina Dimitrievska, “Bulgaria Keeps Veto on Launch of EU Accession Talks with Skopje,” Bne IntelliNews Emerging Markets Direct, June 22, 2021, https://intellinews.com/bulgaria-keeps-veto-on-launch-of-eu-accession-talks-with-northmacedonia-213837/. 35 Marek Grzegorczyk, “EU Tells Albania It Can Take Its Own Path towards Accession,” Emerging Europe, May 7, 2021, https://emerging-europe.com/news/eu-hints-albania-can-go-its-own-way-decoupling-from-north-macedonia/. 36 Agron Tare (Deputy Minister to the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs) interviewed by Will Forsen, June 22, 2021. 32

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in the 2015 migration crisis and a myriad of other ideological differences.37 This recently culminated in the EU invoking its treaty’s Article 7, suspending Hungarian voting rights due to rule of law concerns.38 Poland, too, triggered Article 7 in 2017 over judicial reforms.39 As relatively new members, Hungary and Poland contribute to internal enlargement fatigue, and patience is wearing thin while the EU attempts to avoid similar issues with the Western Balkans. The EU-Western Balkan virtual meeting in May 2020 reaffirmed the EU’s support with a financial package to offset pandemic pressures. Despite such generosity, regional leaders have grown tired of the lack of substantive change in accession progress.40 Vučić expresses Serbian frustration: “We’ve done everything the EU requested from us, and nothing has happened.”41 Edi Rama, the Albanian Prime Minister, recently went further to say, “Today, [the Balkans] are hostage to European nationalism.”42 With nonconforming member states, the EU finds itself preoccupied in its attempt to further Western Balkan negotiations. Two questions therefore remain open: to what extent will external factors and actors influence candidate countries; and will the Balkans ever be fully prepared for EU membership?

Maciej Tyburski, “The Problematic Relations Between Hungary and the European Union,” Warsaw Institute, January 25, 2021, https://warsawinstitute.org/problematic-relations-hungary-european-union/. 38 David R. Cameron, “EU Deploys Article 7 against Poland & Hungary for Democratic Backsliding,” Yale MacMillan Center, September 17, 2018, https://macmillan.yale.edu/news/eu-deploys-article-7-against-poland-hungary-democratic-backsliding. 39 Cameron, “EU Deploys Article 7 against Poland & Hungary for Democratic Backsliding.” 40 Erwan Fouéré, “The EU’s Enlargement Agenda Is No Longer Fit for Purpose,” Centre for European Policy Studies, January 12, 2021, https://www.ceps.eu/the-eus-enlargement-agenda-is-no-longer-fit-for-purpose/. 41 Darko Čačić, “Analysis: Vucic’s Balancing Act with the EU,” EURACTIV, July 6, 2021, https://www.euractiv.com/section/enlargement/opinion/analysis-vucics-balancing-act-with-the-eu/. 37

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“Albania Leader Blames Nationalism for EU Expansion Deadlock,” Associated Press, July 9, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/europe-government-and-politics-albania-nationalism-310ce51ed34fe93247a8b27805716f 89.

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External Actors More stringent EU accession conditions or a stalled process may encourage Balkan states to seek alternative strategic partners, including illiberal powers. The North Macedonian Prime Minister warned that “some other side may step into the vacuum” if accession delays continued.43 Despite their stated commitments to EU policies, Balkan relations with Turkey, Russia, and China demonstrate the increasing illiberal presence in the region. Turkey has prioritized expanding its influence over the Balkans, recently targeting ethnic Bosniak, Turkish, and Albanian minorities through their shared Ottoman heritage and Muslim religion.44 It promotes religious and cultural awareness by renovating mosques and historical monuments and has increased media presence in the region.45 Simultaneously, Turkey has recently expanded economic relations: the Turkish-Balkan trade volume increased by $15.5 billion USD from 2000 to 2011. The Balkans are integral to Turkish access to the European market, as roughly 151,000 Turkish trucks pass through every year.46 This ambition concerns EU leaders like French President Macron, who declared that “[he doesn’t] want a Balkans that turns toward Turkey.”47 Turkey continues to assert that its only intention is to promote stability within the region, which it claims is only possible through EU accession.48 However, Turkish domestic Boris Babic, “North Macedonia’s Zaev: EU Membership Talks ‘Now and at Once,’” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, October 16, 2019, https://www.dpa-international.com/topic/north-macedonia-zaev-eu-membership-talks-now-urn%3Anewsml%3Adpa .com%3A20090101%3A191016-99-326040. 44 Agata Palickova, “Turkey, Russia and China Covet Western Balkans as EU Puts Enlargement on Hold,” EURACTIV, June 24, 2019, https://www.euractiv.com/section/enlargement/news/turkey-russia-and-china-covet-western-balkans-as-eu-puts-enlar gement-on-hold/. 45 Dorian Jones, “Ankara’s Rising Balkan Influence Rattles Allies.” Voice of America, July 25, 2018, https://www.voanews.com/europe/ankaras-rising-balkan-influence-rattles-allies; Palickova, “Turkey, Russia and China Covet Western Balkans as EU Puts Enlargement on Hold.” 46 Oya Dursun-Özkanca, “Turkish Foreign Policy and the Balkans: Implications on Transatlantic Security” (presentation, The London School of Economics and Political Science, London, May 2013). 47 Jones, “Ankara’s Rising Balkan Influence Rattles Allies.” 48 Ayhan Simsek, “Turkey in the Balkans: Myths, Illusions and Realities,” Deutsche Welle, May 16, 2012, https://www.dw.com/en/turkey-in-the-balkans-myths-illusions-and-realities/a-15953307. 43

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issues illustrate a different reality: there is growing sentiment that the EU “needs” Turkey more than Turkey “needs” the EU.49 With Turkish accession negotiations effectively coming to a standstill amidst “the serious backsliding observed since the 2016 coup attempt,” it may be tempted to depart from the European vision and enhance its regional role.50 As Turkey continues down an increasingly illiberal path, they could give beleaguered Balkan states an alternative option. Much like Turkey, Russia focuses on exerting its cultural and economic powers to slow the EU enlargement process. Specifically, Russia exploits religious and cultural bonds present in regional ethnic identities to fuel destabilizing movements and stall diplomatic actions. The sizable Balkan Orthodox population sees Russia as the modern protector of their religion and people.51 Recognizing the heightened influence offered by its position of religious authority, the “Russian media often frames regional rivalries in religious terms [to] exacerbate already existing tension.”52 Additionally, there exist Slavic ethnonationalist ties within the region. Moscow capitalizes on and fosters these cultural linkages, referring to Serbs, a Slavic subset group, as “[Russians’] spiritual brothers.”53 This continued affinity towards Russia in place of Europe further undermines the integration process. Russia also continues to increase its indirect influence by exponentially growing its investment in Balkan states. The Balkans’ dependency on Russian imports and loans combined with its weak governance and transparency makes the region extremely susceptible to Russian influence. To shape policies, Russia economically Dursun-Özkanca, “Turkish Foreign Policy and the Balkans: Implications on Transatlantic Security.” Robin Emmott, “Turkey’s EU Membership Bid Evaporating, Commission Says,” Reuters, October 6, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-eu-democracy/turkeys-eu-membership-bid-evaporating-commission-saysidUSKBN26R2NH. 51 Stanislav Secrieru, “Russia in the Western Balkans,” The European Union Institute for Security Studies, July 2, 2019, https://www.iss.europa.eu/content/russia-western-balkans. 52 Secrieru, “Russia in the Western Balkans.” 53 Andrej Semenov, “The EU, Kosovo and Serbia: The Quest for the Status,” Central European Journal of International & Security Studies 11, no. 4 (2017): 94. 49 50

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punishes countries that enact anti-Russian policies or deepen ties with the West. This sanction increases the cost of integrating into the EU, further disincentivizing the completion of already tedious reforms.54 Through destabilizing the region, Russia hopes to dissuade the Balkans from entering the EU and assert its influence, creating an anti-Western enclave within Europe.55 While Russia and Turkey put more effort into building political ties, China’s economic focus in the region has transformed it into an important regional actor, despite lacking historical influence. China’s Belt-Road Initiative (BRI), its international infrastructure project, targets the Balkans seeking commercial access to the Western European markets. With relatively small economies, the Balkans gladly take these investments as loans that, as of 2019, have reached $14.6 billion.56 While this increase initially appears to aid the Balkans’ development, it impedes Balkan-EU integration. Such loans can trap developing countries in debt they may not be able to repay, and their resulting economic dependence makes them politically vulnerable to influence, which could result in hesitation from the EU to admit these states. Chinese influence also provides opportunities for Balkan countries to violate EU environmental standards. Despite EU agreements that ban the construction of new coal plants, Balkan states have increasingly been contracting Chinese firms to build coal power units. As a result, the EU questions the Balkan states’ commitment to integration, and an alternative developmental path offered by China looms. Lastly, these projects perpetuate the epidemic of corruption in the region. The BRI utilizes corrupt government patronage networks and prevents transparent bidding processes for contracts in direct violation of EU standards and values.57 Robert Hand, “Foreign Meddling in the Western Balkans,” U.S. Helsinki Commission, May 28, 2021, https://www.csce.gov/international-impact/events/foreign-meddling-western-balkans. 55 Secrieru, “Russia in the Western Balkans.” 56 Valbona Zeneli, “The Western Balkans: Low Hanging Fruit for China?” The Diplomat, February 24, 2020, https://thediplomat.com/2020/02/the-western-balkans-low-hanging-fruit-for-china/. 57 Austin Doehler. “How China Challenges the EU in the Western Balkans,” The Diplomat, September 25, 2019, https://thediplomat.com/2019/09/how-china-challenges-the-eu-in-the-western-balkans/. 54

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Not only could the growing external influence stall or completely stop Balkan Europeanization by disincentivizing reform implementation, but it could also split the region into spheres of influence. Perhaps this is the negative impetus that the EU needs to reassert control and eliminate the threat of non-European interests and ideals making inroads in the Balkans.

Conclusion At present, EU accession seems to be a distant prospect for much of the region. While some Balkan states are better positioned than others to join in the near future, domestic problems and bilateral issues threaten to hold these candidate countries back. The continued dispute over Kosovo all but guarantees neither it nor Serbia will join without some resolution, and the region’s collective history and ethnic tensions divide the countries, preventing reform on crucial issues. Continued stalling of the process exacerbates these problems, driving Euroscepticism among member states and a sense of Balkan resignation. Further delays also give China, Russia, and Turkey more time to gain influence in the region, creating a vicious cycle that ultimately makes accession increasingly challenging over time. However, instances of cooperation within the region show promise. The “mini-Schengen” zone demonstrates surprising collaboration in the face of exogenous shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Any accession progress in one country would likely have spillover effects on the rest, renewing calls for domestic reform and allaying European fears. While the picture as it stands may look bleak, there are certainly grounds for cautious optimism. These tentative steps toward cooperation can provide a path forward for the region as it continues on its European journey.

University of Notre Dame | Keough School of Global Affairs


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Further Reading Bugajski, Janusz. Return of the Balkans: Challenges to European Integration and U.S. Disengagement. Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press, 2013. See especially chapter 7, “West Balkan Conflicts: Causes and Consequences.” Bunce, Valerie J. “141. The Violent Dissolution of Yugoslavia: A Comparative Perspective.” The Wilson Center: Meeting Reports, October, 1997. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/141-the-violent-dissolution-yugoslavia-compar ative-perspective. De Munter, André. “The Western Balkans.” Fact Sheets on the European Union, European Parliament, November 2020. www.europarl.europa.eu/factsheets/en/sheet/168/the-western-balkans. Fouéré, Erwan. “The EU's Enlargement Agenda Is No Longer Fit for Purpose.” Centre for European Policy Studies, January 12, 2021. https://www.ceps.eu/the-eus-enlargement-agenda-is-no-longer-fit-for-purpose/. Ker-Lindsay, James, et al. “The National Politics of EU Enlargement in the Western Balkans.” Journal of Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 17, no. 4 (2017): 511–22. Semenov, Andrej. “The EU, Kosovo and Serbia: The Quest for the Status.” Central European Journal of International & Security Studies 11, no. 4 (2017): 94.

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Contributors Researchers Ciara Fitter Will Forsen Aaron Jalca Celia Krohn Nora Murphy Grace Rozembajgier Joey Speicher

Advising Team Anna Dolezal, student programs assistant manager, Nanovic Institute for European Studies Clemens Sedmak, director, Nanovic Institute for European Studies, and professor of social ethics

Editorial Support Jennifer Lechtanski, graphic designer, Nanovic Institute for European Studies Gráinne McEvoy, communications specialist, Nanovic Institute for European Studies Grant Osborn, assistant director, Nanovic Institute for European Studies For insights and consultations on early drafts of this report, the authors give special thanks to Susanne Keppler-Schlesigner, deputy director of the Diplomatische Akademie Wien-Vienna School of International Studies.

University of Notre Dame | Keough School of Global Affairs


Profile for Nanovic Institute for European Studies

The Road to Europe  

The Nanovic Institute is pleased to announce the publication of “The Road to Europe: Exploring European Union Candidacy in the Western Balka...

The Road to Europe  

The Nanovic Institute is pleased to announce the publication of “The Road to Europe: Exploring European Union Candidacy in the Western Balka...

Profile for nanovicnd

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