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Special Event: Enlargement Moving beyond Europe’s Fatigue and Bilateral Disputes

Special Event: Enlargement Moving beyond Europe’s Fatigue and Bilateral Disputes

(in partnership with the European Fund for the Balkans

Discussion Points:

  1. Back in Top 10: where is the enlargement on the EU agenda?
  2. EU Enlargement or Isolation: how are the crises affecting the EU integration perspectives of the Western Balkans?
  3. Could the concept of ‘multi-speed EU’ make the EU integration of the WB easier and quicker?
  4. Looking Ahead: which way is best for keeping the political momentum launched by the Berlin process alive?
  5. State of Play: how far did the WB progress in solving bilateral disputes?
  6. Creating roadmaps for solving bilateral disputes: how can civil society contribute?
  7. Advocating for the Enlargement: how to fully use the potential of civil society in the WB and the EU to combat enlargement / accession fatigue?


Catherine Wendt‚ Head of Unit for Serbia, DG NEAR, European Commission

Goran Svilanović‚ Secretary General, Regional Cooperation Council

Zoltán Pogátsa‚ Lecturer, University of West Hungary

Srđan Cvijić‚ Senior Policy Analyst, Open Society Foundations

Nikolaos Tzifakis‚ Assistant Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science and International Relations of the University of the Peloponnese; Research Associate, Wilfred Martens Centre for European Studies

Moderator: Ivana Dragičević‚ Executive Producer International News, N1 News Channel


The statement of Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker in 2014 that there will be no new enlargement in the next five years was received in the Western Balkans (WB) as a gloomy signal that the interest of the European Union is starting to fade under the long-lasting pressure of “enlargement fatigue”. Multiple crises and challenges which followed, questioning the strength and resilience of the EU, topped with the British decision to “Brexit” the Union, threatened to leave the enlargement lingering on the bottom of the EU agenda. Nevertheless, it seems that the EU is still determined to pursue enlargement as one of its most successful policies. The initiation of the Berlin process in 2014 was already welcomed as a sign of support reaffirming the interest of the EU, and particularly some member states, in a common European future of the Western Balkans. The main message of the Paris EU Western Balkans Summit was that enlargement towards the region stands high at the EU’s agenda. Despite the recent crises, or maybe even because of them, the new EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy and the priorities posed by the Slovak presidency over the Council of the European Union, both include the enlargement among the EU’s priorities.

The Berlin process has provided a new framework and a positive impulse for regional cooperation among the Western Balkan countries, as one of the crucial precondition for their progress on the way to joining the Union. United by the common goal of joining the EU, the WB candidates and potential candidates have considerably improved the regional cooperation and strengthened the good-neighbourly relations among the WB6 and with their EU neighbours. The Vienna Western Balkans Summit in 2015 brought a particularly significant step in this direction, with heads of WB countries committing to improve regional cooperation and progress in solving bilateral disputes within the final declaration.

It has also reconfirmed the important role of civil society in envisaging the most efficient direction on the way towards fulfilling this goal, as it included a consultation process between the civil society representatives and the political leaderships. On that trail, Balkans in Europe Advisory Policy Group (BiEPAG) presented a toolbox for resolving bilateral issues with specific steps and recommendations. . The overall determination towards the resolution of the disputes was displayed through several initiatives and joint meetings of WB leaders and reiterated within the final declaration of the Paris Western Balkans Summit in July 2016.

Nevertheless, remaining unresolved bilateral disputes present not only a major obstacle that can hamper further progress of WB in the EU integration process, but also introduce a real risk of renewing instability in the region. The renewed strengthening of ethnonationalism that we have witnessed during the recent election campaigns throughout the WB, followed with the escalation of toxic rhetoric and even short-term closing of the boarder, threatens to delay the resolution of existing bilateral disputes. Moreover, the tendency of reintroducing the bilateral issues in the framework of accession negotiations, displayed once more recently with Croatia temporarily blocking the opening of Negotiation Chapter 23 with Serbia, reveals the fragility of EU’s transformative power. Despite their declarative political commitments, some EU member states find it hard to resist the temptation and refrain from (mis)using their position of EU member states in the framework of the EU accession negotiations with WB countries for politicizing bilateral issues. The key of genuine progress in solving bilateral disputes among the WB, as well as the WB and their EU neighbours, is in finding a way to transform the declarative support of political elite into concrete and timely actions, as well as often unpopular compromises, towards reaching substantial and sustainable bilateral solutions. Therefore, finding a way to preserve the impetus for resolving bilateral disputes by placing it high on the schedule of WB politicians and decision-makers in bilateral relations represents one of the main challenges.

Furthermore, encouraging the EU to create more incentives for solving the ‘neighbourly disputes’ through bilateral negotiations, along with strict consequences for politicizing and bringing them on the multilateral level of EU integration negotiations could be another valuable step in the right direction. One of the suggestions in that line proposed the appointment a new EU coordination body which would insist on the resolution of bilateral disputes in the WB, though effective incentives and diplomatic pressure at its disposal. Active involvement of most, if not all EU member states in the Berlin process, as well as overall commitment to this issue, would be highly desirable step.


Selected Readings


Previous BSF secessions on the topics of security and Europe as a global player:



Side Event: The Berlin Process in Belgrade: The EU as a Peace Project Revisited in the Western Balkans
Plenary Panel 4: Improving the European Model of Governance: Ways Forward

Session 4: Countering the Tide of Radicalization: In Search of a Comprehensive Response



Session 4: EU Enlargement: Picking Up the Pieces?

Evening Panel: Serbs and Albanians in 2025 as Friends and Allies: How do We Get There?


Session 1: State Building and European Integration – Mutually Reinforcing or Contradicting Processes?

Session 3: Regional Cooperation and Reconciliation in the Western Balkans: Continuation or Stalemate
Session 9: Serbia and Kosovo*: A Game Changer in the Balkans?

Session 12: The Balkans 2020



Session 2: Frozen conflicts or Frozen Lives?
Opening Panel: New Paradigm of the Region: Are the Balkans Finally a Success Story?



Opening Panel: The Benefits of Regional Cooperation
Main Panel 4: Balkans: From Security Problem to Security Partner


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