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Setting the Stage for Enlargement

The Integration of the Model for Staged Accession to the EU into the New Growth Plan for the Western Balkans

The inception of the New Growth Plan for the Western Balkans (NGP) represented a pivotal moment in the ongoing discussions of how to breathe life into gradual integration within the EU’s approach to enlargement. Gradual integration can be broadly defined as the strategy to incrementally extend membership-like benefits to non-member states, thereby smoothing their transition toward full EU membership. Since 2021, the Model for Staged Accession has pioneered a horizontal approach to this concept, linking the access to increased benefits to the level of accomplished reforms in all clusters. This model seeks to move beyond the traditional binary approach to enlargement while prioritising the Fundamentals. Given that both the Model and the NGP represent attempts of operationalising gradual integration, it is warranted to analyse to what extent they overlap. The paper posits that while the NGP effectively integrates the Model’s principle of conditional financial incentives to promote reforms, it overlooks the critical role of institutional participation as a complementary driver for accelerated accession progress. Uncovering the similarities and nuances of the NGP and the Model, the aim of the paper is to provide clarity on the analysed topic to EU policymakers and guide them on how to continue exploring further possibilities of gradual integration in the next institutional cycle.

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