Breaking the impasse: Exploiting new opportunities to strengthen EU-Western Balkans relations

This discussion paper argues that successful economic and democratic transformation of the Western Balkans depends not only on a more coherent political engagement of the EU and its member states with the region, but also on a more effective use of the full range of tools within the enlargement policy toolbox. The revised methodology for accession negotiations and the recently announced Economic and Investment Plan have the potential to revive the region’s sluggish EU integration process. This will only be the case if negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia are launched. In this way, the EU and its member states will show their actual commitment to the process and also likely incentivise the other countries in the region to speed up their domestic transformation processes in view of EU accession. What can the EU and the member states do more and better to deliver on the enlargement dossier? Our recommendations are:

  1. Recognise the risks associated with the widening of the democratic and economic convergence gap between the EU and the Western Balkans.
  2. Induce political commitment by expanding the scope and purpose of the Intergovernmental conferences.
  3. Design the Roadmaps for the “fundamentals” in inclusive and evidence-based way.
  4. Ensure that the Economic and Investment Plan works for the people (and not the corrupt elites).
  5. Involve the Western Balkans in the upcoming EU initiatives.

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