Western Balkans' 2025 EU accession looks challenging, wiiw says

By bne IntelliNews July 11, 2018

While European Union leaders met in London with representatives of the six Western Balkan countries to push them speed up their European path, the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies (wiiw) noted that the 2025 accession target date for Montenegro and Serbia seems too challenging as none of the countries will be ready due to their lack of progress on key reforms.

The summit is the fifth within the Berlin Process, established in 2014 and designed to revive ties between the Western Balkans and the EU.

“Despite a welcome attempt by the European Commission to inject new momentum into the region’s EU accession prospects, major obstacles remain. As well as economic underdevelopment, the existence of political disputes between countries in the region has the potential to slow substantially the accession process. Moreover, many EU member states, notably including France, do not share the Commission’s enthusiasm for a speedy accession,” wiiw said in a statement.

Even Serbia and Montenegro – the “frontrunners in economic terms” – are slowed down by political obstacles from within and outside the region, according to wiiw. The two countries are seen as the most likely candidates to become the next EU members in 2025.

However, wiiw believes that this date is highly ambitious even for them as they, like all the other Western Balkan countries, suffer from infrastructure deficits, weak competitiveness, high unemployment and poor governance standards.

“In addition, we highlight that the political obstacles to accession caused by inter-regional disputes may be even more problematic. The need for a legally-binding agreement on relations between Serbia and Kosovo before accession of either is one such example,” wiiw noted.

At the same time, not all EU member states seem happy with the idea of the accession of the six countries, and some of them believe that the union must first solve its internal issues. The not so positive example of Bulgaria and Romania, which are still under supervision due to high levels of corruption ten years after their accession doesn't help Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

“Rightly or wrongly, candidate countries in the Western Balkans are seen by many in Western Europe through the prism of current fights over the EU budget and migration. The experience of Romania and Bulgaria, who ten years after accession are still under special corruption-related monitoring procedures, could also be having an impact on the low level of support for further enlargement,” wiiw added.

Meanwhile, The Guardian quoted EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn as saying that the European leaders are becoming “more and more impatient” with the reluctance of the leaders of the six countries implement much needed reforms to the rule of law, which was threatening their chances of joining the EU by 2025.

“I admit our member states are becoming more and more impatient on this issue because they see this is as crucial – the fight against corruption, media reform and independence of judiciary,” Hahn was quoted as saying a the summit in London.

He added that the region needs statesmanship to meet the timetable for accession.

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