3 June 2019 – The EU’s policy of conditionality towards candidate states (basically the carrot and stick principle) is usually perceived as successful, bearing in mind that it has produced positive effects in countries which had hoped to become the members of the EU. However, despite results which proved to be successful during previous rounds of enlargement, for the Western Balkans region this mechanism is not adequate. The progress of the region towards the membership in the EU remains limited. While these countries gradually increase their formal compliance with the acquis of the EU accession process, their overall democratic performance, conversely to the hopes and logic of the EU, either stagnates or backslides. Has the EU policy of conditionality contributed to this paradoxical condition?
The European Policy Centre (CEP) has organised a panel discussion held today at the EU Info Centre titled “EU conditionality policy towards the Western Balkans: the support for the democracy and rule of law (?).” This discussion focused on the research of Dr Natasha Wunsch, a postdoc researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), who has claimed that EU conditionality policy towards the Western Balkans has unintentionally contributed to the phenomenon of state capture in the region.
Dr Wunsch presented the results of her study at this event (the study is available here while a shorter version in the form of a blog is available here. After the presentation, Nataša Dragojlović (Coordinator of the National Convention on the European Union), Milan Antonijević (Executive Director of the Open Society Foundation Serbia) and Srđan Majstorović (President of CEP’s Executive Board) discussed how to understand the observed deficiencies and how to make the policy of conditionality work better in coming years. The panel was moderated by Sena Marić, programme manager and senior researcher at CEP.
The EU policy of conditionality towards candidate states is usually perceived as successful, bearing in mind that it has produced positive effects in countries which had hoped to join the EU in the past. Despite results which proved to be successful during previous rounds of enlargement, however, Wunsch’s study claims that conditionality is not fully adequate for the Western Balkans region. She points out that state capture is a key obstacle to the democratisation of the region, and claims that EU conditionality not only does not reduce harmful forms of governance but also unintentionally contributes to their strengthening.
“There exists a noticeable discrepancy between the constantly increasing level of formal compliance with the conditions of EU accession and the simultaneous fall of the liberal democracy in the region,” notes Wunsch.
Srđan Majstorović mentioned that the conclusions of the researchers, that the EU policy of conditionality does not produce the best results, has unfortunately been confirmed by the recent EC report on slowed Serbian progress towards European integration.
“There is less enthusiasm in the EU when it comes to the policy of enlargement. However, we have to ask ourselves: are we a sufficiently qualified candidate for membership? I have an impression our representatives and authorities do not understand the language of the EC report – and because of this they did not take it seriously.”
“The so-called “stabilocracy” of Brussels seems often to be more important than democracy regarding Western Balkans states. This is wrong and very alarming,” said Nataša Dragojlović at the gathering.
Milan Antonijević said that the thesis of Natasha Wunsch provides the perspective of those who study relations between Brussels and Belgrade, and the way how this policy is going to change after the EU elections[ML3] . He added that citizens in Serbia are neither aware of the significance of the European integration nor of the lack of implementation of reforms and the subsequent slow progress on the way to the EU. “Every conditionality of the EU is not going to have an effect until the citizens will not become aware of it,” concluded Antonijević.