Despite the EU’s existential crisis, enlargement to the Western Balkans remained on track. However, Macedonia, Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina are lagging behind.
At the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003, the EU resolved to bring in the Western Balkan countries as future members. As in Central and Eastern Europe prior to 2004/7, the EU applies accession conditionality focusing on political and economic reform as well as harmonisation with the acquis. Owing to the legacy of the wars of the 1990s, the Western Balkans face additional conditions related to the ICTY, good neighbourly relations and regional co-operation. Despite the occasional softening of conditions driven by political considerations, the EU generally displays a great degree of unity and has delegated a great deal of power in terms of monitoring and assessing compliance to the European Commission.
2011 was a good year for enlargement. Croatia wrapped up its membership negotiations on the last day of the Hungarian EU presidency at the end of June. Montenegro, which was granted candidate status in 2010, received a positive avis by the European Commission in October and might start accession talks in June 2012. But a coalition of pro-enlargement and anti-enlargement countries put forward additional benchmarks related to fighting corruption and organised crime. As a result, the European Council in December gave Podgorica only a conditional date for accession talks.
Serbia also moved forward after fulfilling the ICTY’s conditions with the arrest and extradition of General Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić, but Kosovo emerged as the most serious hurdle to its progress. In particular, Germany, supported by Austria, demanded that Belgrade first intensify co-operation with Prishtina. As a result, the December European Council deferred the decision to grant Serbia candidate status until March 2012 (see component 41). Still, Germany – in contrast to Belgium, France and the Netherlands – continues to actively back enlargement along with other prominent advocates such as Sweden. However, enlargement slowed down in the cases of Macedonia (which has candidate status and has the European Commission’s endorsement for starting membership talks but is blocked by Greece), Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina (see component 42).
|Leaders: Germany - Hungary - Poland - Sweden|
|Slackers: Belgium - France - Greece - Netherlands|