EU Accession for the Western Balkans | Stratfor

EU Accession for the Western Balkans


Increased membership has long been a foreign policy objective for the European Union. Since its inception in 1957 as the European Economic Community, the European Union has grown from six members (West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) to 27 members, and more are on the way. Croatia became an acceding country in 2012 — its formal accession is slated for July — while Iceland, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and Turkey have been granted candidacy status. Brussels has also deemed Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo potential candidates. Once a country has been accepted as a candidate, it begins formal negotiations led by the EU Commission to implement the economic, political and institutional reforms required for EU membership. The designation of “candidate country” does not imply a specific timeline for accession; in fact, negotiations do not have particular deadlines. As a result, the candidacy status does not ensure immediate EU accession. More countries — especially those in the Western Balkans — are likely to join the European Union, but the process will extend to the end of the decade. Unlike previous periods of growth, the European Union lacks real strategic interests in incorporating most of the current candidates, which have small economies and already are surrounded by EU and NATO members. Furthermore, political fragmentation within the European Union tempers any desire to grow further. After nearly doubling its membership from 2004 to 2007, the European Union will become more selective in its incorporation of new members. At the same time, the ongoing crisis will make the European Union somewhat less attractive to potential members, which will be reluctant to implement structural reforms if they believe the costs of reform outweigh the benefits of membership.