The largest ever expansion of the European Union took place in 2004. Ten countries (seven of them from the former Eastern Bloc) joined the EU. Further enlargement would follow, with Bulgaria and Romania joining in 2007, and Croatia in 2013. However, no new Member States have joined the club since then, despite much talk of adding the Western Balkan states as members.

Why haven’t the Western Balkan countries joined the EU? It’s certainly not through choice, as 82.5% of the population in the region favours their country joining the EU. The European Union also has the stated aim of “promoting peace, stability and economic development in the Western Balkans and opening up the prospect of EU integration.”

Currently, the EU recognises Albania, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia as candidates for membership, but old conflicts in the region are slowing down the accession processes. Since the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s, ethnic conflicts have been simmering, which many observers perceive as a potential threat to peace in Europe. Some worry that EU accession of the Western Balkan countries could lead to the EU “importing” these conflicts. Others hope that the prospect of EU membership, as well as the conditions of EU accession, will encourage the conflicting parties to resolve the conflicts.

What are the alternatives to EU membership? Many countries in the Western Balkans suffer “persistent economic weakness” and are struggling with high unemployment, while corruption is widespread among the political elites and sometimes even in judicial systems. In addition, bilateral disputes with EU Member States have also caused the accession processes to stall, including the protracted name dispute between Greece and Northern Macedonia. Yet some argue that the Western Balkan countries should join the EU as soon as possible despite all the problems, not least out of fear of Russia’s increasing influence in the region.

Want to learn more about the Western Balkans’ journey to EU membership? Check out our infographic below (click for a bigger version):

What do our readers think? Our reader Borislav from Bulgaria says that the Western Balkan countries should join the EU as soon as possible because membership is about saving lives and preventing wars. Is he right? Could EU membership reinforce the peace process in the Western Balkans?

To get a response to his question, we put Borislav’s comment to Fjoralba Caka, former Deputy Minister of Justice of Albania, who was responsible for European integration and anti-corruption policy. She is currently a lecturer in EU law and the internal market at the University of Tirana and a European Young Leader. What would she say to Borislav?

For another perspective, we also put Borislav’s question to Ana Pisonero Hernandez, the EU Commission’s spokesperson on Neighbourhood and Enlargement, International Cooperation and Development. What does she think?

Next up, we had a comment from Gent arguing that the accession of the Western Balkan countries is still a long way off, with corruption in particular a big problem. What else needs to happen for the EU to accept the Western Balkan countries?

How would Fjoralba Caka, former Deputy Minister of Justice of Albania, respond?

How would Ana Pisonero Hernandez, the EU Commission’s spokesperson on Neighbourhood and Enlargement, react?

Next, Ivan sent us a comment arguing that with Brexit, one of the biggest net contributors has now left the EU. He is not sure whether the EU is really in a position at the moment to take in what he calls the “financial basket cases” of the Western Balkan countries. Is he just being rude? What would EU membership of the Western Balkans mean for the EU?

Here’s what Fjoralba Caka had to say:

Here’s how Ana Pisonero Hernandez responded:

Finally, we had a comment from Alma warning that the EU should not wait too long to integrate the Western Balkans. Otherwise, she thinks Russia will try to exert greater influence throughout the region. Is she right?

What would Fjoralba Caka say?

What is Ana Pisonero Hernandez’s take on Russian influence in the Western Balkans?

Should the Western Balkan countries join the EU? Could EU membership reinforce peace in the region? What would accession mean for the EU? Will Russia try to influence the region if EU accession stalls for too long? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

Image Credit: Bigstock (c) HelgaGont


149 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Martti

    Honestly No, as EU has Huge problems at the moment with various agenda’s and brexit isn’t done yet either. If all that would be done answer would be …welcome, if the criteria is filled.

  2. avatar
    Yannick

    How else to go to Greece by land?? It would seem logical :)

  3. avatar
    Arnout

    Yes ofcourse, the question is when. And untill the EU figures out how to deal with it’s dissendents like hungary and poland, then no.And to me that starts with the removal of veto rights.

  4. avatar
    Paul

    That’s just what the EU needs, more ethnic disharmony !!

  5. avatar
    Julia

    I think they will be beter off for their freedoms and sovereignity to stay out of it. The EU feels oppressive, interfering and dictator-like lately. I feel like moving back to the UK.

  6. avatar
    Laura

    The last EU enlargement has certainly brought economic growth, prosperity to those countries who joined in 2004 and also stability, understanding and new opportunities to the rest of Europe. If the Balkan countries are ready to meet the criteria to join the EU this will be beneficial for all; this will mean a stable region where people are ready to live in harmony, create jobs and as a result this will impact on European stability, sentiment, criminality levels and security across The region. But the cost of such an enlargement would be extremely hard to explain and justify, without a proper communication campaign as the one of 2004,

  7. avatar
    Gerd

    i think not, we have in europe enough problems with hungarry and polen, they do not respect human rights and the democratic states, there is big corrruption orbans familiy is rich from european money, in poland the government do not respect the democracy and on balkan? i be afrais the problems in europ wil greater

  8. avatar
    Irena Sinani

    Le Balcan west est très important pour l’avenir de UE. De plus,leurs populations croient fortement dans les valeurs fundamentals de UE.
    Les decisions stratégiques de UE devraient être prises avec la majorité significative des membres de UE et non avec l’unanimità.
    Aujourd’hui, Il n’y a pas eu de cohésion entre les objectifs définis pour le Balcan west et la décision qui était bloquée par la Bulgarie.
    N’importe quel pays avec n’importe quel résonnement pourrait dire non et utiliser son VÉTO même si le Conseil de UE est très favorable pour une décision réellement stratégique.
    Le mode a évolué, la prise des décisions de UE devrait changer aussi.
    UE devrait être avant-gardiste et non une prisonnaire des réglementations du passé.
    Cordialement,

  9. avatar
    Dino

    Which one, Schengen EU, Euro EU, Boarderside Frontex EU (Polen, Hungary, Croatia, Greece)? I would prefer the first one, the rest is still Balkans EU.

  10. avatar
    Gjergj Kastrioti

    It is clear that eu has a lot of problems with its own standards. This whole process is becoming ridiculous and untrustworthy. Maybe this is the reel eu, an untrustworthy and hypocrite union.

  11. avatar
    Uliksi Durrsaku Detit

    A mos vallë duhet të bëjmë politikë reciproke dhe më dinjitoze në disa fusha të interesit lartë me këtë organizën që ka shumë koka dhe ku njëra i bie gozhdës dhe tjetra dorës? A nuk duhet të kufizojmë në limite të barabarta të qenurit treg iEuropës? A mos vallë do bërë një referendum di Anglezët? Hyrja në këtë grupë shtetesh është veç taksa më të larta,a mos vallë na bie më mirë të jemi në pozicione të ngjashme si shteti Zvicrrës? A nuk duhet ta shohim veten jo vetëm nën mbrojtjen Amerikane por dhe në tregtinë me një shtetë të vërtetë që ka fuqi të plotë dhe një mëndje?

    • avatar
      Uliksi Durrsaku Detit

      Fundja a nuk duhet të ridimensionojmë tregtinë në hapësirën shqipëfolëse dhe atë Turke si dhe me Organizatën Islamike sidomos me Arabinë Saudite?

  12. avatar
    Arben Leka

    Yes, and enough is enough.
    You are dealing with nations and people and EU is not an elementary school where the children keep fighting with each other and decide who can join their class.
    You should not negotiate your values or else you are not who you pretend you are.
    So far from a true Union of free and responsible people.
    Be serious Europe!!!

    • avatar
      Roosje

      Dawid Wella yet here you are in a united country in a already united world.

    • avatar
      Roosje

      Kristine Pauwels actualy they do not, those are the numbers that keep poping up. People want to stay in the EU. And they are not a dictatorship, they are probably more democratic than your own nation. Globalism has been around since for ever, so if you dont want globalism you might aswel turn in all the wealth you obtained for the past hundreds of years. And sovereignity means little as it never existed. Maby check out all those cool wars we had in the past. Now we have peace though, more sovereign is hard to get. So yea its not more democratic aswel, as you will have no say at all on what happens into germany or any other nation. It is rather uninformed on how the world works and an emotional outage. “something I dont like happend! So now everything is bad”.

    • avatar
      Borislav

      Roosje Hartje united In diversity

    • avatar
      Borislav

      Not unity in neocolonialism(google it)

  13. avatar
    El

    If they bring more idiots like Viktor Orban or his moronic colleagues from Poland it’s: no, thank you…

  14. avatar
    Nikolai

    Yes. Membership will help stabilise a volatile region and open borders and trade will make nationalist arguments meaningless.

  15. avatar
    Jean-Marc

    Ask Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan to join us?

  16. avatar
    Pierre

    of course il they are willing to…

  17. avatar
    Philippe

    Very bad idea. EU is now already falling apart and lots of people want out of it.

  18. avatar
    Chalks

    Europa needs to be the EU44. Everyone in through some form.

  19. avatar
    Fred

    Eurozone countries in, the rest out. You’re not European if you use different currency.

  20. avatar
    Ruurdt

    Better solve the problems created by Poland and Hungary and get Every body facing the same way before expansion of Europe.

  21. avatar
    EU Reform Proactive

    Q: Did the EU learn any useful lessons from history?
    A: Hardly & not without criticism!

    The EU concept & its structure is by now a “fait accompli”! Non-negotiable! One could take it- but very costly to leave it!
    Much hype- worth it or not- or consult Brexit Britain?

    Its arguments & efforts are directed to:

    • undermine & destroy Nationalism & Patriotism whenever it is rearing its ugly head in any of the 27 EU Member states. It is solely defined & controlled by the EU Commission & marketed as a sure-fire belief that it will automatically guarantee eternal peace in the EU block, however not in Europe (CoE47) or globally.
    An “EU Value”. Anti-Nationalism! Nato scepticism?

    • design, implement & enforce a 27 Member “Rule of Law Alliance”. Based on the doctrine of the supremacy of EU law & CJEU.
    An “EU Value”. Rule of law!

    • allow entry into a club of a 27 Member free trade Economic Alliance- based on comparative advantage & zero tariffs. To increase power, wealth & give a select group comparative access to EU markets, labour, technologies.
    An “EU Value”. Schengen. Free trade & travel!

    • establish a 27 Member Defense Alliance under the EU watch. To “secure” the ever-expanding- but ever so porous outer borders. All Welcome!
    An “EU Value”. The Mutual defence clause (Article 42(7) + “Frontex” + one- from Nato- independent EU Army under consideration. Plus a collective defence commitment for EU Nato Members under NATO Article 5. A lot of serious & dangerous commitments! Such Alliances allowed the past WW’s! Now to become even greater ones.

    • create & enforce a EU27 Millenarianism Alliance. Better known as an unenforceable, cultural & social integration effort. Loathed & rejected by many natives.
    An “EU Value”! EUHRC. Social engineering.

    Why not compare the new Alliances with what existed before WWI?

    One can only hope that the a.m. tragedy triggered in the Balkans does not repeat itself! With no effective border protection and the Berlyemont chambers exposed to free travel, who can prevent a crazed Slavic neo-anti-EU “Gavrilo Princip group” to make history again?

  22. avatar
    Ribiz

    NO, not at all ! see us in Belgium, Vlamse en French speaking communities cannot get together, unite into one single state, and we have known each other for nearly 200 years …. than it is absolutely obvious to me that only nightmare can be the result of further expansionism … N.B. who knows ? may be this is the final goal, allowing the EU and the NWO to fully impose A.I. based green fascism … and transhumanism … the agenda XXI …

    • avatar
      EU Reform Proactive

      Ek stem saam.Geniet ‘n lekker vakansie, maar wees bly om in ‘n nog gelukkiger huis in u eie land terug te kan kom- terwyl dit steeds moontlik is onder al die voortdurende politieke waansin.

  23. avatar
    Gaston

    No, the EU is big enough. Solve the problems with Poland and Hungary first. And don’t let Turkey join the EU!!!

  24. avatar
    Karel

    Nog meer criminele infuuslanden en wij maar dokken. NEXIT hoe eerder hoe beter

  25. avatar
    GP

    The EU can’t even take care of the allready existing country’s in the EU, so stop expanding (at least for a much lager period).But as useual the EU only thinks at the power and the money they will gain with expanding.

  26. avatar
    Anthony

    What a terrible idea.No, no and no. There are already too many problems by having let countries like Poland and Hungary join. Imagine the powder keg nations of the Balkans joining. The EU would descend into pandemonium and inter-fighting and break up into yet more cliques faster than you could say Archduke Ferdinand. The Balkans have always been nothing but trouble and trouble-makers. I am almost tempted to say: give them back to the Turks if there is fear of increasing Russian influence.

  27. avatar
    Olivier

    One of the major cause of EU failure was a too fast expansion to new members… No more membership……

  28. avatar
    Jean

    No,no,no…we have enough problems with ORBAN and also POLAND.

  29. avatar
    Bruno

    And we (who are in) desperately want to get out!

  30. avatar
    Massimo

    We have Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria to deal with for the moment. Isn’t that enough?

  31. avatar
    Aniano

    If they want to be ordered about by the Germans and the French : welcome.

  32. avatar
    Ronald

    put dem back te tthe aest blok en stop met sponsoring van zulke schurkenstaten

  33. avatar
    Werner

    Yes, but… look what happens when you let them in just to avoid them falling into the fist of Russia or China.

  34. avatar
    Peter

    No. The EU is already too big. Expansion only serves the power of the unelected autocrats in Brussels.

  35. avatar
    Raoul

    create two EU’s , Western EU and an eastern EU , those countrys only take the profits , not the rules for a real EU , for the eastern countrys , bette return to the influence of the USSR

  36. avatar
    Mf

    NO NONOU.E has a 1st urgent job : solve all the problems

  37. avatar
    Paul

    Of couse the poor countries want to join lots of lovely free euros and cheap truck drivers

  38. avatar
    Geert

    Ño , no , no …..and please go back to the EEC state …..

  39. avatar
    Ria

    Dan komen ze allemaal naar België om ons sociaal systeem te bestelen

  40. avatar
    Paolo

    It seems the expansion to Hungary, Poland, etc. has taught nothing

  41. avatar
    Kris

    I kinda think Hungary and Poland are sh*tting all over the chances of new member states being admitted anywhere in the near future. The EU will think twice before admitting countries that want to join the club, get free money… and then suddenly want to change the club’s rules.

  42. avatar
    Patrick

    Hexit zoals Rutte wil. Dan kan molen en nog volgen en al wie niet in de pas loopt van de arrogante EU politici. Weg met EU in zijn huidige vorm. Pak eens het probleem van de sociale dumping aan.

  43. avatar
    Andrei Nedelcu

    No, before EU citizens decide on referendum on this. Not to mention wider security challenges and in some countries almost overwhelmingly negative stance on EU and European values, although hopping to personally profit from the EU accession through freedom of movements.
    After a failed transition, the current political class in region is the heir to the totalitarian past. These politicians are trying to maintain their positions, power and financial system that they usually earned by illegal eansm, wartime profits from the former Yugoslavia wars or illegal privatizations and are now trying to turn Serbia’s path to totalitarian regimes like China or Russia.

    The EU aim is to ensure “democracy” and changes that could come only under pressure from outside the region. Region’s political scene is already destroyed and the authorities are insured internally. Any civil internal resistance against the current power structure is doomed to failure.

    The region is still plagued with institutions such as the secret services, the judiciary, the prosecutor’s office, the religious communities or some so-called non-governmental organizations, which instead of defending citizens, create irrational political goals such is EU Accession, with fully bein aware that setting bar this high, it help defend the interests of the local plutocrats and the totalitarian foreign powers and push the societies into a precipice.

  44. avatar
    Michał

    Maybe you should deal with kicking out the countries you want to kick out first, and see if anybody still wants to be in your club.

  45. avatar
    Paul

    Time to rethink structure…..its clear that whilst most welcome trade & related arrangements, the social model being advocated by the federalist doesn’t suit many members…..need to look at “inner & outer” membership options…

  46. avatar
    Yannick

    I answered before that the Balkans are an anomaly: yes they should be opened up to Europe. I would add that countries who cling to their currency are also an anomaly. Forints and Kroner are cute but it would really be more practical if all could use the Euro.

  47. avatar
    Pedro

    Either that or we can’t complain if they turn to other players.

  48. avatar
    Olivier

    Stop this crazy enlargement which was one of the major mistake in EU achievement.. EU is not just a market. It should be a political unit..

  49. avatar
    Bogdan Balaban

    No without a clear human rights agreement, obligations, and clear criteria of sanctions. Look at the East. The anti lgbt law from Hungary is now proposed in Romania too. Poland is coming close with their zones. We dont have to expand UE to more countrys that will come out as extreme conservatives and give to the East a big number of countrys as allies in their batle to destroy UE. If you dont put some pre aderation criteria that includes human rights, UE will be destroyed from inside by the conservator extremists. Already the life in the east is becoming super hard. The hate is at the moon levels and the politicians atack the gay people weekly. We are tired, and UE cant do nothing to help. Why do you want to give them more allies and destroy the human rights forever ?

  50. avatar
    Martin

    Trade agreements, affiliation, no membership.

  51. avatar
    Zoran

    Yes definitely! Once they become part of the union, the whole balkan peninsula will streigthen economically, culturally and geopoliticaly, thus relieving the union to focus on other problems that 21th century brings.

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