It appears as though the new approach to the European integration process, which resulted in the expediting of the EU membership candidate status of Moldova and Ukraine, but also Georgia’s potential candidacy, being driven more by geopolitics than adherence to the Copenhagen Criteria. Is it plausible to believe that this change could potentially also impact Western Balkan countries?
Many people are currently wondering about the possibility of a breakthrough in Serbia-Kosovo negotiations, but we took a step back to discuss the broader perspective in which the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, the European Commission’s recent recommendation that Moldova and Ukraine be granted EU membership candidate status and that Georgia be considered a potential candidate are all part of the same package – an all-encompassing realignment of EU and NATO foreign and security politics vis-à-vis Russia.
According to our interlocutors, a new concept of European integration seems to be emerging. Driven largely by geopolitics and prioritising the need to secure borders and consolidate the continental bloc amid the prolonged war in Ukraine and Russia’s impact on the wider region, this new approach could also have a detrimental impact on Western Balkan countries.
These advances might be pushing all questions related to chapters and clusters, which have hitherto defined the pace of the Euro integration, onto the backburner. Only a few people are today contemplating the possible effect of Serbia’s failure to open new chapters in 2022. That seems to be of secondary importance in these times when bigger issues of peace and security are on the table.
Of course, it is far from clear whether all the pieces will fit into this landscape. There are uncertainties surrounding the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and the attitudes of Western Balkan leaders, particularly Serbia’s. Moreover, there is always the possibility that the EU will be less proactive in encouraging Western Balkan countries to feel welcome in the European family, as was previously the case despite concessions.
Finally, the issue of public opinion in these countries is also important. Unlike before, when the focus was on those opposed to Euro integration, the attitudes of disheartened pro-EU citizens are now of greater significance. While they were always a certain voting base, today – at least in Serbia – they are increasingly nonbelievers.
This new shift in the momentum of Euro integration might not be come as uplifting news for supporters of EU accession in the Western Balkans, given that topics of security could overshadow those related to democracy, freedom of press and corruption, which were in focus during the previous period.
Here our interlocutors dissect these assumptions in greater detail.