On 1 July 2018, Bulgaria handed over the presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) to Austria. Both enlargement-friendly presidencies came at a time of uneasiness and external and internal unpredictability for the Union. As the ongoing trade war and the disagreement on military spending show, EU-US relations have become tense in areas which constitute the backbone of the transatlantic alliance, such as trade and defence. Meanwhile, populist governments, like the one recently established in Italy, as well as those of Poland and Hungary, have been causing concerns with their divisive rhetoric and Euroscepticism. Finally, as the EU’s ‘key leader’ Angela Merkel continues to face instability at home, and the 2019 EP elections are approaching, the EU has found itself in a limbo of ‘soul searching’ due to its inability to find common solutions on the most pressing issues such as migration.
The aim of this CEP Insight is to analyse Bulgaria and Austria’s priorities, with a special focus on their prioritisation of enlargement in the context of changing dynamics in the Western Balkan region (WB). This Insight also provides an overview of what being on the EU’s agenda means for the WB and outlines what lies ahead on the region’s path towards the EU.