The CEU Center for European Neighborhood Studies (CENS) and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Budapest organized a conference called ‘Western Balkans between Internal Transitions and the European Integration Process’ on 24 April 2017.
The audience had the opportunity to listen to speakers from all the six countries of the Western Balkans. They listed several problems and mistakes regarding both the EU and their respective countries.
One of their common arguments was that the European Union is constantly losing leverage in the region due to the lack of real commitment when it comes to accepting new member states. This enlargement fatigue results in a slow and limited accession process, where improvements exist merely on paper and not in practice. Of course, local political elites use this as a tool against EU institutions in order to preserve their own power.
All the panelists admitted to be more or less sceptical about the path of their countries towards EU integration. According to them, the main reason for this is that the EU prefers stability over democracy and turns a blind eye on violations of human rights. The solution could be a strong network of civil society members from all these states in order to make their voice count and be heard.
Back in 2004 the political will of the ‘old member states’ coincided with the one of ‘newcomers’, whereas nowadays public support for EU integration in (potential) candidate countries is not overwhelming at all. It is worth mentioning that only around 40% of Serbian youngsters are in favour of joining EU and 27% do not have an opinion at all, while in theory they would be the ones to benefit the most from becoming an EU citizen.
Despite the difficulties, every participant underlined the fact that they should not implement reforms for the sake of Brussels, but for their own benefit. In this sense EU accession is yet another positive effect –and not the only one.