Fifteen years after the European Union (EU) promised all the Western Balkan states an EU future by adopting the Thessaloniki agenda in 2003,1 Croatia is the only Western Balkan state to have succeeded in joining. Although Croatia’s journey to EU accession was not quick and smooth (especially when compared with that of its ex- communist counterparts from East Central Europe and the Baltics who joined in 2004 and 2007), Serbia and other Western Balkan neighbours of Croatia have had an even harder and (much) bumpier road to the EU. Western Balkan accession had been effectively stalled for several years due to the emergence of enlargement fatigue in the mid-2000s. It was briefly re-activated with Croatia’s accession and the launch of the so-called Berlin Process in 2014 (Juncos and Whitman, 2015; Petrovic and Wilson 2018; and Mtchedlishvili, 2018 in this Special Issue). However, the accession process stalled again in 2016 and early 2017 with the shock of Brexit and the migration crisis. As of 2018, Western Balkan accession has returned to a prominent place on the EU enlargement agenda.
The European Union (EU) is a unique player in the Western Balkans where, since the 1990s, it has employed a wide array of foreign policy instruments: diplomacy, trade, financial assistance, civilian and military missions, and enlargement which is the EU’s most successful foreign policy tool. Therefore, the region is an inspiring case for studying the EU’s transformative power. Despite the fact that the EU has been the main driver for change, the Europeanisation of this post-conflict region has been slow, which can largely be explained by high compliance costs, strong domestic veto players, and the inconsistent use of conditionality due to the stability-democratisation dilemma. This dilemma is likely to be even more pronounced in the future. Although there is no war in the Western Balkans, the region is facing other latent security challenges such as organised crime, terrorism, and irregular migration. How should security threats be faced in the absence of strong institutions? Serbia’s accession process reveals a weakness in that country's democratic, judicial, and law enforcement institutions, which can only reinforce the EU's stability-democratisation dilemma.
This article critically assesses the role of pro-reform and pro-EU civil society in the process of Serbia’s accession to the European Union (EU). Civil society (the so-called non-government or third sector) has played a fundamental role in the democratisation of former Communist countries, including in the Western Balkans where the majority of aspirant EU members still reside. Serbia’s democratic transformation began soon after its regime-change occurred on 5 October 2000. This country’s process of democratic consolidation is ongoing and is strongly supported by pro-EU civil society actors who are key drivers of Europeanisation. Civil society organisations and actors have increased general knowledge about the quality of democratic reforms in Serbia and brought in technical expertise which has assisted Serbian society to align better with the EU’s acquis. Specific examples of civil society’s activism in this article will demonstrate some unique characteristics of Serbia’s third sector. Its evolution from an anti-war movement and loosely connected individuals and citizens’ associations in the 1990s to becoming a major advocate of EU membership in Serbia and a partner to the Serbian Government on EU accession is worthy of further academic research and analysis.
Serbia, as the second regional frontrunner (after Montenegro) in the EU accession process, hopes to be able to meet the required conditions and join the EU by 2025 which the European Commission 2018 enlargement strategy declared as the earliest possible date for the admission of new EU members. However, some of the EU’s expectations and requirements which Serbia has to meet, particularly those regarding the ‘normalisation’ of its relations with Kosovo and the resolution of ‘bilateral disputes’ which it has with some other neighbours, seem to be very tough and challenging for the Serbian government. The article discusses the recent developments in Serbia’s relations with its ‘most problematic’ neighbours and critically assesses the strength of problems in these relations as an obstacle for Serbia’s accession to the EU. The article shows that thanks to EU assistance and the commitment of interested parties to find a common ground, Serbia’s relations with Kosovo may become even less of an obstacle to its accession than its relations with its three western neighbours, particularly Croatia.
This article discusses one specific aspect of the process of Serbia’s EU Accession which refers to liberalisation of the transfer of economic property rights over natural resources, particularly agricultural land. The underlying principles of the free market economy assume free movement of goods, capital and labour. However, there are two existing approaches when analysing transfer of property rights over agricultural land as a natural resource. The first one insists on full liberalisation of the transfer of ownership rights in this area, while the second approach assumes limiting or imposing certain restrictions through national legislation on the free transfer of property rights over agricultural land as a limited national resource and national wealth. Experiences of applying these two approaches within EU member states differ from full liberalisation to significant restrictions on the freedom of agricultural land ownership transfer. In the process of accession negotiations with the EU and in line with a proclaimed interest to join the World Trade Organisation, Serbia has to deal with the issues of liberalisation of trade of agricultural products as well as other national resources including agricultural land. Since the EU regulations do not have any specific requirement in terms of the adoption of a completely liberal approach, it is up to Serbia to decide which model is the most appropriate, considering its own interests. The article defines and discusses arguments which strongly speak in favour of imposing limitations to the full liberalisation of the transfer of property rights over agricultural land as a natural resource in Serbia.
The sense of optimism for the enlargement of the European Union in the near-future has been evaporating. A new strategy paper on EU enlargement which was issued by the European Commission in February 2018 seems to still be based on a ‘fatigue from expansion’ approach to enlargement, even though it states that Serbia and Montenegro ‘could potentially be ready for membership [by] 2025’. This paper discusses the bumpy road the Western Balkan states have faced towards EU accession from the early 2000s to the present day. In addition to more challenging domestic political and economic conditions, these states have also been required to meet tougher and more variable accession conditions in comparison to the post-communist states that joined the EU in and after 2004. The inconsistency and vagueness of the EU approach to the accession of the Western Balkan states remains the most important factor behind the continued postponements of their accession dates.