The Western Balkan enlargement of the EU

What are the advantages and disadvantage of an enlargement of the European Union?

The idea of an accession of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia to the EU has been around for several years. But this discussion got a new momentum in February 2018, when the Commission announced the year 2025 as possible accession date.

Reaching this goal would imply a relatively fast accession process. France is sceptical to such a fast enlargement of the EU. The French President Emmanuel Macron is aware of the necessity of binding the Balkan states to the EU, but he insists on reforming the EU before any further enlargement. An enlargement of the EU would make the already slow decision-making process even slower and more ineffective. The German chancellor Angela Merkel is also concerned about a too fast accession of the Balkan states. She said that an enlargement of the EU had to be made step by step. Progress in the application of the rule of law and the fighting of corruption should serve as criteria for an accession. In other words, Merkel calls for a rule-based accession.

Not only politicians, but also parts of the European population are sceptical to the planned Western Balkan enlargement of the EU. They fear a rising immigration of cheap labour force and increasing crime rates. Furthermore, they are afraid of an accession of a “new Greece”. Even certain Balkan states have reservations towards the EU. Serbia accuses the EU of having taken an anti-Serbian position during the Kosovo war and parts of the Montenegrin population feel deeper ties to Russia than the EU.

Despite these circumstances, the EU still has a vital interest on the Balkans. The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Frederica Mogherini, explained that a security problem on the Balkan, would also mean a security problem for the EU and that the EU has to act on the Balkan since Russia, China and Turkey are increasing their influence in this region.

The EU already invested several billion Euro as development aid in the Balkan states. These countries have a population of only 18 million people with a low purchasing power and till now their markets do not play a central role for the EU. However, European companies should be able to benefit more and more from these markets in the near future.

The EU reinforced the accession perspective for this six Balkan states on the last EU-Summit in Sofia, but there is still no clear timetable on how to proceed. This means that even after the last EU-Summit, there is no new progress. Montenegro and Serbia are still in official accession negotiations and Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are still potential candidates. However, it is important to emphasize that the Commission recommended to start accession negotiations with Albania and Macedonia.