Despite European unity, there was no dramatic improvement in 2012. Conditionality remains indispensable for consolidating the region’s weak democratic regimes.
European goals in the Western Balkans include strengthening the rule of law, fighting corruption and organised crime, and helping consolidate democratic institutions and safeguard human rights. The progress of the enlargement process in 2012 was not matched by noticeable improvement in domestic governance. The electoral success of the populist Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) headed by Tomislav Nikolić, who was elected president in May, remained a divisive issue. Despite the popular mandate and its pro-EU rhetoric, the party, which is the senior partner in the governing coalition, is tainted by the radical nationalism of the 1990s and has more recently ridden high on a populist agenda. The government’s decision to place a core party member at the helm of its central bank and to ban the regular Gay Pride parade in Belgrade raised concerns among Europeans. However, Brussels cautiously welcomed the governing party’s popular anti-corruption campaign.
In Albania, the government-opposition deadlock was partly overcome in the interest of passing EU-oriented legislation, but polarisation between the partisans of centre-right Prime Minister Sali Berisha and opposition leader Edi Rama remains high. Montenegrin general elections were won, once again, by the ruling coalition led by Milo Djukanović’s Democratic Party of Socialists – the political force that has governed Montenegro since the end of Yugoslavia. The EU has decided to kick-off accession negotiations with the chapters dealing with judicial reform and the fight against organised crime and corruption, universally seen as a formidable challenge in that country. Whether this choice makes a long-term difference is hard to tell, especially given the prospects for Milo Djukanović’s return to active politics, which signals continuity rather than rapid change. The European Commission continued to judge Macedonia sufficiently compliant with the political criteria so as to start membership negotiations. Still, local civil-society raises serious concerns regarding media freedom and corruption at high levels. Inter-ethnic relations, though peaceful, were tense.