What Future for EU Enlargement in Pandemic Times?
The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in the countries of the Western Balkans are expected to be severe. They are likely to aggravate the existing economic and social challenges in the region, thereby further hampering economic convergence with the EU.
In October, the EU adopted an Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans aimed at supporting the long-term recovery of the region, promoting a digital and green transformation, and fostering regional economic integration. Further progress has been made with the announcement of the Common Regional Market at the Berlin Process Sofia Summit in November.
At the same time, however, the process of finally opening accession talks with North Macedonia has been overshadowed by the Bulgarian veto against the accession framework, again delaying well-deserved progress for North Macedonia’s EU integration. This erodes the region’s faith in a merit-based EU enlargement process and undermines the EU’s credibility and Western Balkans policy only months after the methodology of the accession processes had been revised. Moreover, reform processes in the fields of the rule of law and democratization have been slow or stalling in many of the countries, negatively affecting the EU accession process.
Against this background this discussion will address the following questions: How to maintain the necessary credibility of the EU enlargement process, both among governments but also among the wider publics of the region? How to ensure greater political commitment on both sides in the upcoming phases of the accession process? How can the EU use its instruments at hand as effectively as possible? Under which conditions and to what extent can the EU’s Investment Plan and the Common Regional Market contribute to economic recovery and growth and thus to the further EU integration path of the Western Balkans?
Aspen Institute Germany