Western Balkans: further than ever from EU?

"All Balkan states have a clear prospect of joining the European Union", German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised at the first Western Balkans Conference three years ago. This year's edition of the summit with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia ended on Wednesday. But commentators see these countries further away than ever from joining the EU.

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Jutarnji list (HR) /

As long as they're not killing each other...

Jutarnji list explains how the EU has failed in the Western Balkans:

“The EU can't leave this region in the hands of irresponsible and often corrupt politicians yet claim that all is okay there as long as they 'aren't killing each other'. Because they are no longer 'killing each other' the EU has neglected the democratisation of these states for too long. … If the EU continues to demand that the fight against corruption and organised crime continue while at the same time praising the very politician who bare most of the blame for this and working with them, the region will never be Europeanised. The EU's strategising and being lax for the sake of a temporary and superficial political stability will backfire.”

Der Standard (AT) /

No one dares try anything new

The same old ideas are presented at the summit each year, Der Standard admonishes:

“Yet the strategies employed so far haven't brought the region significantly closer to the EU. This is because these states lack efficient administrative structures for managing EU funds effectively. For true change to occur they need better analysis, more investment and the courage to try out new approaches. Launched by Angela Merkel in 2014, the Berlin Process has accomplished little to date also because the EU member states haven't made any serious moves on EU enlargement for years. People are now pinning their hopes - justifiably or not - on President Emmanuel Macron.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Change in the wrong direction

For the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung there has been no recognisable progress in the Western Balkan states in recent years - on the contrary:

“If there has been any political change to speak of, it has not been in the direction of democracy and the rule of law but towards authoritarianism and nepotism. Against a backdrop of economic and social stagnation corrupt political elites are increasingly making use of nationalist rhetoric. It's high time the EU once again addressed developments in this region above and beyond events like this - important - West Balkan summit. If it doesn't, it may soon be forced to pay far more attention to the region than it would like to.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) /

Moscow gaining ground

The fact that Moscow is extending its influence makes the prospects of the Balkan states joining the EU any time soon increasingly unlikely, Il Sole 24 Ore complains:

“The Balkan countries still come across as the continent's orphans. And while the European project, dogged by dwindling solidarity, is losing its power of attraction, in certain countries like Serbia, as in the Middle East, Russia's influence is growing. Since the annexation of Crimea Moscow has renewed its efforts to bind the states of this region to itself. It is in this context that Montenegro's accession to Nato should be viewed. As a member Montenegro is completely irrelevant. Its membership is aimed solely at putting Russia's nose out of joint.”

Delo (SI) /

Make the Balkans a priority

The summit is an important attempt to ensure that the EU remains attractive for the Balkan states, Delo explains:

“Because of its plans for energy and infrastructure projects, Russia has no interest in seeing the region destabilised right now. Turkey has enough problems at home and with its neighbours. And China is entirely focussed on economic and strategic interests. But the EU can only overcome the challenges these big players pose if it makes the Balkans a geopolitical priority. From this perspective the Berlin Process is the most significant regional mechanism for regulating the accession processes in the Balkans. It can help the mutually interdependent countries of the region, but they must do their homework themselves.”