The Strategist

The European Union wants to advance the frontiers

02/12/2018 - 13:45

During the visits to Serbia and Montenegro at the end of last week, EU Commissioner Johannes Khan presented the new EU enlargement strategy. It calls for the accession of six Balkan countries - Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo - to the single Europe since 2025. Experts believe that by embarking on such a large-scale expansion, the EU expects to maintain its leading role in the region, and at the same time to solve its own problems.


The fact that Johannes Khan chose to visit Serbia and Montenegro is not accidental. The EU has set a time frame for entry (by 2025) to only these two countries, and they both are subject to very stringent requirements. The rest of the states in the region have only been confirmed that there is a European perspective for them - without reference to any terms. Albania and Macedonia are promised the beginning of accession negotiations, Bosnia - the future status of the candidate, and Kosovo - the possibility of "progress on the European path."

This follows from the Strategy of the EU's enlargement to the Balkans promulgated last week. Johannes Khan and the head of European diplomacy Federica Mogherini presented the plan before the European deputies in Strasbourg. "The Balkan states and their leaders have opted for membership in the EU. And we want to see them in the European Union," Mogherini declared.

Thus, the EU returned to the 2003 pledge at the Summit in Thessaloniki to accept all the Balkan countries into its ranks. Until recently it seemed that the promise had been safely forgotten, and Croatia's membership in 2013 looked more like an exception. The EU is mired in its own problems, its old-timers do not hide their satiety after several waves of expansion, and the current EU leadership, which took the steering wheel in 2014, directly stated that new members of the union are not expected. And now the European Union has again announced an expansion, and a very large one. Many in the Balkans (and in other countries) regarded  this as an important step towards a united Europe.

However, the readiness to accept the Balkan countries of the EU is limited by very stringent requirements. The expansion strategy contains more than fifty recommendations for potential members. Their essence can be reduced to two points: completion of reforms and settlement of all interstate disputes. Last week, Johannes Khan repeatedly has assured that it is difficult to count on membership without implementing these points. At the same time, the EU Commissioner himself and Federica Mogherini repeated the mantra: "2025 is not a deadline, but a prospect, although real."

Officially, the authorities of the Balkan countries welcomed the new strategy. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić called the European Union "the most successful project after World War II" after the meeting with Johannes Khan in Belgrade. In turn, Montenegro Prime Minister Duško Marković assured that his country, which is considered the leader of European integration, "can join the alliance until 2025".

Only Kosovo's leaders are openly dissatisfied. "The EU strategy does not clarify the question of Kosovo's membership, which is unfair," complained President Hashim Thaçi. At that, he immediately added: "But we will not fall into despair and will do everything that the EU requires of us."

Unofficially, governments of many Balkan countries admit that they "expected something more". The main complaints are the absence of clear deadlines and membership criteria in it. In addition, almost all countries believe that the EU’s requirements are "extremely tough." Serbian leader Aleksandar Vučić directly announced that "Serbia has to climb Everest."