Which Strategy for the Western Balkans? The EU’s Enlargement Strategy between Conditional Coronation and Flexible Participation

    • Presentation speakers
      • Oliver Schwarz , University of Duisburg-Essen, Faculty of Social Sciences, Institute for Political Science, Germany

    The proposed paper examines the evolution of the European Union’s enlargement strategy. Academic researchers have argued that the EU has primarily managed its enlargement in accordance with the classic Community method. The analysis presented in the article concludes similarly but only with regard to the accession round in 2004. It is argued that in the case of Bulgaria and Romania the EU changed its strategy from a strategy of ‘conditional coronation’ to a strategy of ‘catch-up socialisation’. In light of recent political events, this leads to the following question: Which enlargement strategy is applied in the case of the Western Balkans? The paper mainly focuses on a study of EU relations towards seven (potential) candidate countries in the Western Balkans. In taking a ‘synoptic approach’, the article addresses (1) the strategies of the Western Balkans’ key political actors towards the EU and public opinion on accession, (2) the economic and political transformations in the region, (3) the political strategies of EU member states regarding the Western Balkans and public opinion on further enlargement, (4) the EU’s policies towards the Western Balkans, (5) the EU’s constitutional debate as well as (6) regional conflicts in the Western Balkans. The analysis leads to the conclusion that in the case of the Western Balkans, the EU is continuing its enlargement policy as a matter of principle. However, since recently, the permissive consensus on further enlargement has been replaced by an increasing politicization. Diverging perceptions on the future path of EU enlargement in combination with fragile processes of Europeanization have led to a strategy of ‘bridging measures’. The results of the analysis raise the question whether these measures represent only a transitional period of EU enlargement policy or whether they will generate permanent options of ‘flexible participation’ for the Western Balkans.