Event announcement: EU enlargement to the Western Balkans in the light of the war in Ukraine

The year 2022 has reaffirmed the fact that enlargement is one of the key geopolitical instruments of the European Union that is necessary for securing the Continent’s peace, stability, security, and prosperity. The outbreak of the unjustified and unprovoked Russia’s aggression of Ukraine has not only brought back the issue of enlargement to the top of the EU’s agenda, but encouraged out-of-the-box thinking in terms of how to accelerate enlargement and end the impasse, while keeping the progress in the rule of law and fundamental rights at the forefront. On that front, not only did Member States agree to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, but they also unlocked the path for Albania and North Macedonia to progress – after years of standstill. Moreover, by building upon the revised enlargement methodology, the European Council called for further advancement of the gradual integration between the EU and the Western Balkans.

In such a quickly changing environment, the levels of anticipation of the European Commission’s annual reports for the Western Balkan partners were exceptionally high. On 12 October, the European Commission adopted its 2022 Enlargement Package, offering a comprehensive assessment of the state of play and the progress made by the Western Balkan partners on their paths towards the EU. A quick glance at the reports showcases a mixed picture. As before, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia continued to demonstrate only limited or some progress in the area of rule of law, whereas Bosnia and Herzegovina persistently faces a standstill in the work of democratic institutions due to internal institutional struggles. In contrast, North Macedonia and Albania continue to showcase steady progress in key areas, while also engaging in the screening process.

Besides placing emphasis on the Fundamentals, the Commission has this time gone a step further in order to secure full geostrategic alignment of the Western Balkans with the EU. In fact, it was particularly highlighted that in the current geopolitical context Serbia needs to step up its efforts in aligning with EU positions in foreign policy, including declarations and sanctions. Furthermore, the Commission continued to support Albania and North Macedonia’s screening process, while standing by its assessment that Kosovo has fulfilled all visa liberalisation benchmarks. Lastly and most importantly, the Commission recommended that Bosnia and Herzegovina be granted the status of a candidate to join the EU, on the understanding that it reinforces democracy and takes other steps.

This draws the following questions: How does the 2022 Enlargement Package support the reform efforts in the area of Fundaments and other clusters? As civil society’s quantification of ratings per chapter showcase the relative stagnation of the region throughout the past years in terms of the overall level of preparation for membership, what can be done to unblock the reform processes? Finally, considering the ongoing war in Ukraine, how can Commission’s findings ensure further and accelerated progressive alignment of all Western Balkan partners with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy?

As the mentioned issues remain highly relevant for the everyday life of citizens and may determine the European future of the region, the aim of the event is to gather relevant regional and EU experts and officials who will untangle what has been done so far in the key areas and discuss what remains to be done to make sure that the recommendations and benchmarks from 2022 Enlargement Package are implemented effectively and efficiently. To acquire multi-layered answers, the panellists from think tanks from all Western Balkan partners will give their inputs at this event organised jointly by the Think for Europe Network (TEN) and the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR).

The 2022 Enlargement Package will be presented by Mr Maciej Popowski, Acting Director-General for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, followed by reactions from:

• Srđan Majstorović, European Policy Centre – CEP, Belgrade
• Haris Ćutahija, Foreign Policy initiative BH, Sarajevo
• Marko Sošić, Institute Alternative – IA, Podgorica
• Arber Fetahu, Group for Legal and Political Studies – GLPS, Pristina
• Ardita Abazi Imeri, European Policy Institute – EPI, Skopje
• Alban Dafa, Institute for Democracy and Mediation – IDM, Tirana

The panel will be moderated by Corina Stratulat, European Policy Centre – EPC, Brussels.

The working language of the panel discussion is English.

If you want to attend the event in person, please apply.

If you want to follow the event online, please register. The event will be live-streamed on the Think for Europe Facebook page.

Photo right: www.bl.uk