Democratic governance and the rule of law rank high in the EU’s policy. The promise of membership is the ultimate resource but impact depends on domestic conditions.
Membership conditionality is the EU’s key tool for promoting democracy, human rights and good governance in the region. Member states act fairly consistently and in unison. For example, they resolved to forward Serbia’s membership application for assessment to the European Commission, with the Netherlands lifting its veto. Yet some divisions over the pace of the process continue to undermine overall effectiveness of democratic conditionality. There is a divide between the new member states, the UK, Spain and Sweden, who push for keeping the enlargement momentum, and France and Germany, who would like to slow down the process. Greece, a traditional advocate of expansion into the Western Balkans, continues to veto membership talks with Macedonia.
There were moderate gains in democratic standards in 2010. In December, Montenegro was recognised as a candidate country, which means that, in the EU’s judgment, it fulfils the democratic criteria. A membership perspective has bolstered the pro-reform coalition in Serbia and continues to uphold the shaky inter-ethnic peace in Macedonia. On the good governance front, Albania, Montenegro and Serbia are implementing civil service and judiciary reform, but their efforts are yet to be rewarded by the EU. However, while the EU is the ultimate guarantor, short-term improvements are dependent on domestic dynamics rather than the EU’s foreign-policy actions. Even positive developments such as the criminal investigation of Croatia’s former prime minister Ivo Sanader or the resignation of Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic have little to do with pressure from Brussels.
On the negative side, the EU has been unable to bridge the gap between the government and the opposition in Albania. In Macedonia, a candidate since 2005, the government clamped down on certain media (e.g. the A1 TV channel). Because of the blocked accession process, the EU’s leverage in Macedonia has dramatically declined.