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The Slow Progress of the Western Balkans After the Completion of the 2004/2007 Enlargement: Domestic Problems, or a Lack of EU Assistance and Interest?

While the slow post-communist democratisation and marketisation of the Western Balkan states during the 1990s, together with their effectively nonexistent cooperation (let alone association) with the EU, which were expected and logical outcomes of the wrong political choices which were made by their peoples and political leaders at the very beginning of their post-communist transition,9 the deceleration of reforms, and particularly the very slow progress in EU accession of all these states after reforms and EU accession process were successfully initiated in the early 2000s, can hardly be considered as expected or logical. On the contrary, after the wars in B-H and Croatia ended in 1995, and after their Balkan neighbours - Bulgaria and Romania - elected reformist and pro-EU governments in 1996 and 1997, respectively, and were able to catch up with (some of) the countries of ECE and the Baltics in opening accession negotiations with the EU by 2000, there were heightened expectations that the other Balkan states, the states of the ‘Western Balkans’,10 would also be able to quickly follow the positive example of their eastern neighbours. These expectations were further strengthened when the EU soon afterwards offered these countries the ‘coherent strategy’ of ‘conditionality’ and ‘[a] gradual approach’ in offering EU cooperation and assistance for ‘peace and stability, economic renewal, democracy... and [mutual] cooperation’ (EU General Affairs Council 1997, Annex III; see also Pippan 2004).

The positive impact of this new EU strategy, which by 1999 was transformed into the above-mentioned SAP for the Western Balkan states, on post-communist democratisation and the introduction of necessary economic and institutional reforms in the related countries, rapidly became obvious. Not only did the two largest countries in the region, Serbia (then with Montenegro) and Croatia, almost simultaneously replace their post-communist authoritarian regimes with strongly pro-reformist and pro-EU governments during a 10-month period in 1999/2000,11 but also all the countries in the region (with the only exception of Macedonia) succeeded in significantly accelerating their post-communist political and economic transformation in the first half of the 2000s (see Table 2.2).

Although these positive trends were strongly supported and further boosted by the conclusions of several EU Council and European Council meetings on the bright prospects of all the Western Balkan states for an ‘EU future’,12 the progress of these countries in developing contractual relations with the EU was comparatively much slower than those achieved by the aspiring accession states during the 2004/2007 enlargement round (Table 2.3).

Twenty years after the end of civil wars in Croatia and B-H, and 15 years after the ‘second democratisation’ of Serbia and Croatia (which is a longer period than that from the collapse of communism in late 1989 to the accession to the EU of the first eight post-communist states on 1 May 2004), Croatia is the only Western Balkan state to have succeeded in joining the EU, doing so on 1 July 2013. Of the remaining candidates and potential candidates for EU membership from the Western Balkans, which have all signed association treaties with the EU13 and (with the exception of Kosovo) have submitted their application for EU membership, only Montenegro and as of very recently (December 2015) Serbia have opened accession negotiations with the EU (Table 2.3).

Relations between the EU and the Western Balkan states started to slow down a couple of years before the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, when the EU, under the pressure of emerging enlargement fatigue and fears for the EU’s ‘absorption/enlargement capacity’ in its key ‘old’ member states (Phinnemore 2006; Petrovic 2009; Petrovic and Smith 2013), decided to ‘renew [the] consensus on enlargement’ (European Council 2006, point 4), that is tighten accession conditions for new applicants. The key points of this tightening of the general accession conditions were an increase in the total number of acquis chapters from 31 to 35, a tightening of requirements for the closure of each chapter, and the introduction of a clause which defines the accession negotiations as an ‘open-ended process whose outcome cannot be guaranteed beforehand’ (European Commission 2005). In the following years the EU also began to prioritise the importance (and early opening) of the ‘key chapters’ on the rule of law, institution building and economic governance (European Commission 2014; Grabbe 2014), and to further tighten criteria for their successful completion. However, in addition to these conditions, which comprised a general set of additional accession conditions for the new candidates, the changed approach for the new

Table 2.3 Progress in EU accession3

Signed EA/SAA

Entered into force

Membership

application

Accession negotiations opened

Accession negotiations closed

Poland

16.12.1991

1.2.1994

1.4.1994

31.3.1998

12.12.2002

Hungary

16.12.1991

1.2.1994

8.4.1994

31.3.1998

12.12.2002

The Czech Republic*

4.10.1993

1.2.1995

17.1.1995

31.3.1998

12.12.2002

Slovakia*

4.10.1993

1.2.1995

27.6.1995

15.2.2000

12.12.2002

Slovenia

10.6.1996

1.2.1999

10.6.1996

31.3.1998

12.12.2002

Estonia

12.6.1995

1.2.1998

24.11.1995

31.3.1998

12.12.2002

Latvia

12.6.1995

1.2.1998

27.10.1995

15.2.2000

12.12.2002

Lithuania

12.6.1995

1.2.1998

8.12.1995

15.2.2000

12.12.2002

Bulgaria

8.3.1993

1.2.1995

14.12.1996

15.2.2000

16.12.2004

Romania

1.2.1993

1.2.1995

22.6.1995

15.2.2000

16.12.2004

Albania

12.6.2006

1.4.2009

28.4.2009

No

No

Bosnia-Herzegovina

16.6.2008

1.6.2015

15.2.2016

No

No

Croatia

9.4.2001

1.2.2005

20.2.2003

5.10.2005

30.6.2011

Macedonia FYR

9.4.2001

1.04.2004

22.03.2004

No

No

Montenegro

15.10.2007

1.05.2010

15.12.2008

16.6.2012

No

Serbia

29.4.2008

1.09.2013

22.12.2009

21.1.2014provis.**

No

Kosovo

27.10.2015

1.04.2016

No

No

No

  • * Czechoslovakia - 16.12.1991.
  • **The first chapters (35 and 32) were opened on 14 December 2015. aEU-8 (2004), Bulgaria and Romania are given in bold

Source: European Commission Archive on Past Enlargements and other documents.

candidates for EU membership after 2006 also included the identification of ‘(additional) specific’ conditions for some of the candidates. As will be shown in the following two subsections, these constitute an even bigger and more serious burden which the Western Balkan countries have had to face on their way to EU accession.

 
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