Hitting its borders: the domestic impact of Europe on the Western Balkans

With its ‘big bang’ enlargement, the EU has sought to expand the reach of its transformative power to its new neighbours. While the CEE countries had made steady progress towards becoming consolidated democracies with functioning market economies, the Western Balkans remain ‘borderline cases’ of transition (see introduction to this volume). Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are still only partly free, and their statehood is either infrastructurally week and/or contested. Secessionist movements, unsettled borders, ethnic tensions, deficient state capacity and/or strong clientelistic networks have severely compromised the transformative power of the EU. We find such problems even in more consolidated states, such as Croatia and Serbia. The rather unfavourable domestic scope conditions render the Western Balkans a formidable test case for Europeanization approaches with their emphasis on membership conditionality. After having failed miserably to promote — not to mention protect — human rights, rule of law and democracy in the Western Balkans, the member states played their last card and offered the war-torn countries a membership perspective. With this prospective reward for compliance with the Copenhagen Criteria and other rules related to the acquis communitaire, the EU has hoped to tip the balance in favour of domestic reforms and further democratization. Not surprisingly, the EU Western Balkan policy is very similar in design and content to the Eastern Enlargement framework. With some exceptions, the Stabilisation and Association

Process represents ‘little more than a repackaging of the forms of cooperation pursued by the EU with the CEE countries’ (Phinnemore this volume, p. 24; Friis and Murphy 2000).

What does it take? Factors mediating the transformative power of Europe

Expectations to promote successful Europeanization through accession conditionality had indeed been high in the Western Balkans, both among politicians and academics. They started to sober quickly, though. Unlike in CEE countries, democratization and economic transition have proceeded only slowly, frequently stalled and in some cases even relapsed. At least students of Europeanization should have known better. Rather than puzzling over why the EU has not been able to replicate the success story of Eastern enlargement in the Western Balkans, they should have paid closer attention to the scope conditions on which the transformative power of the EU could rely.

Rationalist and constructivist approaches of Europeanization both assume that the misfit between European and domestic policies, institutions and political processes constitutes a necessary condition for the transformative power of Europe to induce domestic change, and that domestic institutions mediate or filter the impact of Europe. They differ, however, in their assumptions in exactly which and how institutions matter (cf. Borzel and Risse 2003).

Domestic change as a process of the redistribution of resources

Rational choice institutionalism argues that the EU facilitates domestic change through changing opportunity structures for domestic actors. In a first step, misfit between the EU and domestic norms creates demands for domestic adaptation. It takes agency, however, to translate misfit into domestic change. In a second step, the downloading of EU policies and institutions by the member states are shaped by cost/benefit calculations of strategic actors, whose interests are at stake. Institutions constrain or enable certain actions of rational actors by rendering some options more costly than others. From this perspective, Europeanization is largely conceived as an emerging political opportunity structure which offers some actors additional resources to exert influence, while severely constraining the ability of others to pursue their goals. Domestic change is facilitated if EU incentives discourage domestic actors from vetoing adaptation to EU requirements (veto players), or they empower domestic reform coalitions by providing them with additional resources to exploit the opportunities offered by Europeanization (formal supporting institutions).

Misfit and conditional incentives combine in the pressure for adaptation the EU exerts on accession countries. Most of the time, ‘reinforcement by reward’ (Schimmelfennig et al. 2003; cf. Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier 2005a) was strong enough to overcome the resistance of veto players against the substantial compliance costs entailed in compliance with the Copenhagen Criteria and the adoption of the acquis communautaire (Jacoby 2006; Vachudova 2005;

Andonova 2003; Grabbe 2006; Pridham 2005). As in the CEE countries, Europeanization has empowered Western Balkan reformists and moderates to overcome nationalist forces and push through domestic reforms. By the late 1990s, the EU willingness to withdraw support and shun the Tudjman regime had emboldened democratic opposition in Croatia. The leverage of the EU was also crucial for the democratization of the nationalist HDZ, who made EU membership its primary goal after 2003 and ousted hard liners from top positions in the party leadership. Similarly, the EU’s strong stance against the Milosevic regime, as much as the use of coercive instruments, strengthened support for the opposition forces and facilitated their electoral victory in the 2000 elections. If domestic veto players had an effect, it was to delay rather than forestall compliance with EU requirements (Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier 2006; chapters by Boduszynski, Stojanovic this volume). At the same time, domestic resistance and institutional inertia were mitigated by the confluence of domestic transformation and accession with political and economic institutions being still in flux (Heritier 2005; chapters by Elbasani, Boduszynski this volume).

Domestic change as a process of socialisation and learning

Sociological institutionalism draws on a normative logic of appropriateness to argue that actors are guided by collectively-shared understandings of what constitutes proper, socially-accepted behaviour. Such collective understandings and inter-subjective meaning structures strongly influence the way actors define their goals and what they perceive as rational behaviour. Rather than maximizing their egoistic self-interest, actors seek to meet social expectations in a given situation. From this perspective, Europeanization is understood as the emergence of new rules, norms, practices and structures of meaning to which member states are exposed, and which they have to incorporate into their domestic rule structures. If there is such a misfit, it also takes agency to bring about domestic change. But the ways in which domestic actors engage with reforms are different. Norm entrepreneurs, such as epistemic communities or advocacy networks, socialize domestic actors into new norms and rules of appropriateness through persuasion and learning, a process through which they redefine their interests and identities accordingly. The more active norm entrepreneurs and EU allies are — and the more they succeed in making EU policies resonate with domestic norms and beliefs — the more successful they will be in bringing about domestic change. Moreover, collective understandings of appropriate behaviour strongly influence the ways in which domestic actors download EU requirements. For example, a consensus-oriented or cooperative decision-making culture helps to overcome multiple veto points by rendering their use for actors inappropriate. Such consensus-oriented political culture allows for a sharing of adaptational costs, which facilitates the accommodation of pressure for adaptation.

While the rationalist mechanisms of ‘differential empowerment through conditionality’ dominated the accession process of the CEE countries, socialization and social learning played a role too (Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier 2005a; Kelley

2004a; Kubicek 2003). Next to financial and technical assistance and the substantial award of membership, the EU provides elites in accession countries with the necessary legitimacy to enact domestic change. The strong domestic consensus in favour of EU membership in their ‘return to Europe’ allowed CEE decisionmakers to silence domestic veto players inside and outside government, despite the considerable costs incurred by EU policies. Moreover, the Copenhagen Criteria strongly resonated with the ongoing reform agenda and large sections of the societies in the CEE countries supporting political and economic transition started by the ‘velvet revolution’ of 1989. The legitimacy of the EU generated sufficient diffuse support through identification with Europe that it often trumped cost/benefit calculations in the adoption of and adaptation to the package of Enlargement conditionality. It also facilitated access and influence of (trans-)national norm entrepreneurs, who had little difficulty in invoking the resonance of EU requirements with domestic norms and values so as to increase their acceptance and promote their internalization. While it did not forge completely new identities and beliefs, EU accession reinforced the identification with Europe (Risse 2010).

In the Western Balkans, public support for EU norms and values — and EU membership more broadly —is more fragile. While Europeanization and democratization are clearly linked, there is public resentment whenever EU demands for compliance with the Copenhagen Criteria clash with nationalist beliefs, e.g. regarding the role of minorities and the extradition of war criminals to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) (chapters by Boduszynski, Stojanovic this volume). The legacies of the past resonate less with the EU’s reform agenda and undermine its legitimacy (introduction to this volume). While socialization takes time, the contributions to this volume indicate some systematic decoupling between formal adoption and behavioural practices.

Similar to the CEE countries, the dominance of ‘differential empowerment through conditionality’ has given rise to ‘shallow Europeanization’ (Goetz 2001a: 1032) or ‘Potemkin harmonization’ (Jacoby 1999), since sustainable compliance with (costly) EU policies ultimately requires internalization of adopted rules. The CEE countries formally adopted a massive amount of EU legislation, which, however, is still often not properly applied and enforced, and thus has not changed actors’ behaviour (Falkner et al. 2008; Borzel 2009) or fostered internalization and long-term rule-consistent practices. In the Western Balkans, history seems to repeat itself. All chapters find rhetorical and often also formal compliance, but only scarce rule-consistent behaviour. In order to explore such problems of ‘decoupling’, we need to go beyond formal adaptation, and systematically study the implementation of domestic reforms, where problems of limited statehood reinforce the impact of mediating factors in curbing the transformative power of Europe.

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