EU enlargement to the Balkans: will the leopard change its spots?

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Series Details September 2014
Publication Date September 2014
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As the leadership of the European Union hands over the baton to a new management this autumn, will the winds of change blow also through the cobwebs of the EU’s enlargement agenda? Jean-Claude Juncker – the incoming President of the European Commission – has already promised to put the gearbox of further EU widening in neutral for the next five years of his mandate, and has designated the Austrian Johannes Hahn as Commissioner for the re-baptised portfolio of now European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, instructing him to focus on the Union’s political and economic ties with Southern and Eastern Europe, and in particular with the Balkans.

Such an approach in the field of enlargement – once crowned the jewel of EU foreign policy – has all the appeal of a damp rag but does not necessarily depart from the festina lente strategy of the recent past. Inside the Union, political appetite and public support for expansion have been fizzling since Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007, and were then severely curbed in the context of the on-going crisis by growing fears of importing organised crime and migrants from the Balkans. Juncker’s logic of consolidation sounds depressingly similar to what it supposedly replaces and incidentally, it also fits neatly with the unambitious and inward-looking mantra favoured at present in discussions at all levels on the future of European integration, more generally. With the 28-member block determined to catch its breath in the immediate time period, and given that even the forerunner countries in the Balkans – that is, Montenegro and Serbia – will realistically need more than five years to complete their accession talks, what priorities should guide Commissioner Hahn, soon to be Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations – when they get down to business on 1 November 2014?

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