This Clingendael Report by Peter van Ham examines the current gridlock in the Western Balkans, arguing that the region’s backsliding in key governance indicators can no longer be ignored.
The conclusion after almost two decades of muddling through in the Western Balkans is that external pressure and EU conditionality do not work, at least not efficiently and not within a time-frame that is politically relevant. The drawback of the EU’s current strategy is that Brussels has become complicit with deceitful government elites, alienating ordinary people in the region and undermining its soft power. The EU should acknowledge its limits, both politically and financially. Without solid support for further enlargement, keeping up appearances in the Western Balkans will no longer do for the EU.
As this report argues, this does not imply that the EU should simply cut its losses and leave the region to competing powers. The EU should use the levers it has (i.e., the visa suspension mechanism), encourage regional cooperation at all levels, and invigorate (free) trade ties that are beneficial to all involved. Such a fair EU strategy will not be applauded in the capitals of the Western Balkans, but it will open an avenue towards “joining Europe” that is realistic for this generation.