A report published by Clingendael – the Netherlands Institute of International Relations – on February 8 explores questions the EU’s promotion of democracy and “stabilitocracy” in the Western Balkans.
Written by experts on the EU and Balkans, the report suggests that the EU’s policies have failed to bring about expected changes in six Western Balkan countries – also known as the WB6 –, namely, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia.
“The enlargement process has lost both efficacy and political momentum. Instead of experiencing decisive democratic reform, the WB6 have slowly developed into ‘stabilitocracies’: countries with obvious democratic shortcomings that at the same time claim to work towards democratic reform and offer stability,” the report argues.
In recent years, the WB6’s EU accession bids have stagnated as a result of various domestic and regional deadlocks; this hasn’t been helped by the EU’s unclear agenda with respect to EU enlargement in the region.
In the recent past, almost all of the WB6 have had autocratic or populist governments that instrumentalize pro-European statements while pursuing policies that work against European values.
The report notes that the formation of such “stabilitocracies” in the Western Balkans is indicative of the limits of the EU’s self-proclaimed “transformative power”.
Going further, the report asserts that EU policies actually contribute to the entrenchment of autocratic tendencies in the region.
“Internal developments and a lack of political will in the WB6 are a significant factor in stabilitocracy formation. […] In each of the WB6 countries, concrete cases exemplify how EU influence has unintentionally contributed to stabilitocracy formation and what factors have determined whether the EU approach has been constructive or not,” the report posits.
According to the report, the EU’s technical approach often contradicts realities on the ground; this can be seen in the EU’s inability to grapple with ethnic complexity in Bosnia and to maintain a cohesive European mission in Kosovo for example.
In addition to offering several recommendations to the EU, the report underlines that the EU and certain countries – particularly the Netherlands –should take serious steps to further the enlargement process.
“The EU and its member states need to seriously consider proposals for a further overhaul of the enlargement process in order to allow for a staged accession trajectory for the WB6. At the same time, the EU could speed up engagement with the WB6 beyond the enlargement framework in order to not lose grip in a region subject to increasing great-power competition,” the report summarized.