Imagine for a moment that the so-called Western Balkan countries were as rich and democratically consolidated as Switzerland, Norway or even tiny Iceland: would you doubt for a second that the EU leaders would not beg them to join the Union? Especially after Brexit has instilled so much impending doom into minds of the political class in Berlin, Paris and elsewhere. Accepting rich and politically straightforward new members would be a welcome remedy against Angst in the corridors of power throughout the continent!
The opening of the so-called Western Balkan route in the summer of 2015 brought the region back to our living rooms and to political boardrooms. One could sense relief and hope among those long advocating for increased efforts on the side of the EU for the Thessaloniki agenda to reach its finalité. Relief because it looked like the immense strains the refugee wave put on the countries along the route did not seem to endanger the regional stability still feared to be fragile.
The well-established cliché of the Balkans' long-term instability may just be sparring with an almost opposite concern. While the region has recently been experiencing rising instability, the West's political goal (or illusion?) of maintaining the status quo at any price may eventually result in a serious backlash.
Fourteen years have passed since the European Union-Western Balkan summit in Thessaloniki in June 2003 where the process know as the Thessaloniki Agenda was adopted confirming the EU accession perspective for the countries of the region. The language adopted was unequivocal: “The future of the Balkans is within the European Union”.
Political and economic prospects in the Western Balkans seemed promising in early 2000s, with countries leaning to the European Union for a prosperous future. Unfortunately, new and old Balkan problems are (re)emerging today, with political and ethnic divisions more entrenched than before due to poor economic performance, instability, corruption and lack of clear–cut prospects for the future. In the meantime, rising euroscepticism and "enlargement fatigue" in the EU have resulted into a stand–by of future enlargements.
The February 2014 protests in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) have highlighted a crisis which is more than social and economic. The paper summarizes the latest events in the BiH political scene in the context of the failing EU integration process, debating the different stances about renewed international engagement in the country. It argues that the Dayton system, which brought war to an end in 1995, needs reshaping and that the recent protests could represent the emergence of a new political actor, ready to move the country out of ethnic quagmire
The paper argues that, although it lost political relevance, the Europeanization of Western Balkans continues to offer results. While the so-called “enlargement fatigue” is generally overestimated, it has rather been bilateral controversies and domestic problems that obstructed the enlargement. Most of all it is the length of the process that should worry. Thus engaging the local public spheres has become fundamental to successfully accomplish the process and to avoid the serious risk of marginalizing the region.
This analysis aims at explaining the nature of Russian foreign policy towards the Balkans taking into account the role of the European Union as an increasingly important player in this radically changed geopolitical context.