Panel 3: The EU’s Unfinished Business: What Next for the Western Balkans and Turkey?

Introductory remarks: Dzhema Grozdanova, Head of Foreign Affairs Committee, Bulgarian National Assembly, ECFR Council Member (Bulgaria)

Alida Vracic, Executive Director of the think tank Populari (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Hedvig Morvai, Executive Director of the European Fund for the Balkans, ECFR Council Member (Serbia)

Remzi Lani, Executive Director of the Albanian Media Institute (Albania)

Sinan Ülgen, Chairman of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (Turkey)

Stevo Pendarovski, Assistant Professor, the University American College Skopje (Macedonia)

Moderator: Tim Judah, The Economist (UK)

The Western Balkans have had more international attention per capita than any other region in the last 10 years. Still progress is stalling and that could undermine the success of EU’s enlargement policy. The EU should figure out how much it is ready to pay for enlargement. At the same time it should realise that the alternative – the policy of benign neglect – does not come at no cost either.

The lengthy and incremental nature of EU – Western Balkans relations needs to be changed as it frustrates the countries from the region. If the EU is to remain the only game in town several conditions ought to be fulfilled. A reasonable and straightforward enlargement timeframe is needed as indifference towards accession timeline exists in some countries (e.g. Macedonia) and threatens democratic reforms. The EU has to become proactive and launch a process of strategic thinking about the enlargement to the Western Balkans. The Union should reiterate that more neighbourhood does not mean less enlargement. More incentives for countries aspiring to EU membership should be added. Having the opportunity to enter the energy union before accession would be a good example. Bilateral problems in the Western Balkans should be solved in a more creative way and not be necessarily linked with the accession process.

The view from Turkey is not very optimistic, the country is about to prove that enlargement is not always successful. There is tangible air of anger and frustration towards the EU even among the youth. The EU has zero credibility, therefore it is impossible to build a coalition of the willing domestically in favour of accession. The EU rhetoric cannot be used to move the society forward. Turkey accepted 2 million refugees and this can become an obstacle to accession – how would the EU deal with this situation even if the accession process is given new impetus in the future?

Main recommendations:

  • The EU should readjust and better utilize existing instruments that have not been put to proper use until now.
  • The EU should use rule of law, fight against corruption and financial conditionality more strategically;
  • The EU should study the Macedonian case for lessons learned – in the Western Balkans there are strong actors and weak institutions, the EU should work towards democratic rule of law;
  • The EU should work towards the creation of substantive democracies and not just formal ones;
  • The Turkish experience/know-how with the EU could provide Turkey with potential leverage through knowledge transfer, therefore Turkey should attempt to use this instrument;
  • A common foreign policy for the Western Balkans, based on the Nordic/Baltic model, could be established;
  • Thanks to buffer countries the EU has the illusion that migration waves can be contained and are manageable. The Union should realise that it is imperative to have more burden sharing in migration.

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Listen to the whole Panel 3 “The EU’s Unfinished Business: What Next for the Western Balkans and Turkey?” discussion here: