From Fatigue to Resistance: EU Enlargement and the Western Balkans

From Fatigue to Resistance: EU Enlargement and the Western Balkans

Previous debate on European Union enlargement has focused on ‘enlargement fatigue’. In this working paper, Spyros Economides considers the current narrative of ‘enlargement resistence’ and analyses the direction of the enlargement dispute regarding the Western Balkans.

Opposition to enlargement is now no longer only based on the notion of ‘absorption capacity’: the twin obstacles of internal fragmentation and disintegration – and the inability of the candidate states to meet the demands of the accession process – are exerting a powerful influence. Crisis in Europe has seen a turn to populism, nationalism, and disputes about the nature of European integration, all of which militate against the possibility of enlargement.

In addition, candidate states, and other prospective members of the EU, are both unable and unwilling to make the necessary political and economic changes needed for accession. This paper argues that the policy of EU enlargement is now contingent on the double resistance offered by internal fragmentation and external inability to comply with accession criteria. As a result, enlargement is likely to stall, even in those Western Balkan countries apparently closest to meeting the criteria for accession.

Download the working paper here.

Keywords: European Union, Western Balkans, EU Enlargement, Differentiated Integration, Democracy.

Spyros Economides is Associate Professor in International Relations and European Politics at the London School of Economics and Deputy Director of its Hellenic Observatory.