Pre-occupied with its financial troubles, the EU is no longer paying attention to the Western Balkans. As a result it is losing credibility and influence in a region that may slide back towards instability. The EU's foreign ministers urgently need to rethink their policies towards the Balkans.
This is the main conclusion of Beyond wait-and-see: the way forward for EU Balkan policy, a policy brief by Balkan experts Heather Grabbe, Gerald Knaus and Daniel Korski, published by the European Council on Foreign Relations.
The EU's 'wait-and-see' approach to the Western Balkans needs to be rethought to sustain the progress of the last couple of years, and avert the threat of future instability. Grabbe, Knaus and Korski argue that the EU needs to use the EU-Balkan summit in Sarajevo on 2 June to announce an intention to boost the EU's engagement in the Western Balkans. This will keep them on the path to stability, prosperity and eventual EU membership.
The authors say:
Like the original EU members half a century ago, it is a shared vision of the future that the newly independent, fragile and still mutually suspicious countries of the Western Balkans have in common. The EU must now decide whether to start delivering on the promises it made.
Using the tools it already has, the EU can support reform in the region through healthy competition, at no extra cost. The recent visa liberalisation in the Western Balkans demonstrates how the EU can effectively use its soft power and tangible incentives to gain leverage and progress in the region.
In particular, Grabbe, Knaus and Korski recommend the EU streamline the accession process in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This paper, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.