The EU continues to have a distinct advantage and responsibility in the Western Balkans. Southeastern Europe is a region where the EU retains substantial influence and is capable of bringing about real change, as it did with the demilitarisation of the Western Balkans and the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue. Yet the EU’s advantage in the region cannot be taken for granted. The challenge today is that of finding ways to empower reformers in the Western Balkans in order to promote economic integration and development in a region plagued by de-industrialisation, unemployment and low investment.
At the same time, enlargement is a policy whose sense of direction is openly contested. Trust in
enlargement policy is declining in the EU and candidate countries alike. At the same time, there is no alternative to a credible enlargement policy for the EU in the Balkans today. The challenge before us is therefore to help rethink the method of enlargement to make pre-accession policy more credible, and restore trust within the EU and the candidate countries that enlargement can be a win-win for all. Elites and publics in the region risk otherwise turning away from the EU, looking for inspiration and support elsewhere.