The study analyses weaknesses of the current EU accession process when it comes to the impact on fundamental reforms in the Western Balkans and offers alternative solutions aiming to maximize the reform potential of the enlargement process.
The accession process so far has been both technically and politically flawed in attempting to be the driver of the transformation in the Western Balkans that would generate changes tangible for the citizens and contribute to the development of functional democracies in the region. The lack of will and convincing strategies for accelerating enlargement has been paired with the support for stabilocracy, the dominant EU approach in the last decade, which prioritized stability over reforms. The consequence of this strategy has been the region steadily becoming both less secure and less democratic, with once unquestionable European credibility and influence progressively eroding.
Sensing that the momentum was slipping away, the EU has launched several initiatives attempting to modify or complement the enlargement policy, the most prominent of which are the new accession methodology and the European Political Community. Additionally, the tectonic shift on the continent initiated by the Russian aggression in Ukraine has put a geopolitically vulnerable region back on the list of European major security priorities. This new momentum is widely seen as an opportunity to bring back the EU focus to the region that has been neglected for years. However, there is a real threat that putting geopolitical interest at the centre of the accession process could further solidify stabilocracy and result in the perpetual neglect of democratic reforms.
Believing that only a democratic region could guarantee stability and prosperity for its citizens, we have set up to suggest an approach that would bring the EU back to the role of a major agent for the democratic transformation of the region, in a credible and effective manner. With this goal in mind, we have aimed at identifying main mechanisms which need to be alternated. Firstly, we have addressed inherent weaknesses of the accession process such as the limited scope of acquis communautaire, emphasis solely on minimum standards through the tick-the-box approach, and exclusive domination over national reform agendas. Secondly, we have outlined how the accession process has been subverted and turned into a mechanism for state capture through legalisation and legitimisation of harmful practices using the back door, enabling bypassing the essential changes by focusing on formal ones and enforcing top-down conditionality even at the expense of domestic democratic practice and processes. Finally, we have examined the role of high politics in the accession process, focusing on the credibility of the enlargement perspective, the language of EU reporting, political messaging that legitimises autocratic practices, and the potential utility of the extraordinary measures.
This publication is written within the project “Fundamentals in focus: European integration beyond action plans”, supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Belgrade and implemented by the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy in partnership with the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, Birodi and Politikon. Opinions expressed in the publication are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Netherlands Embassy in Belgrade.
Original post and publication: https://bezbednost.org/en/publication/reclaiming-the-fundamentals-unleashing-reform-potential-of-the-eu-enlargement-process/