For too many countries in the Balkans, democracy and civil liberties are fragile concepts. The EU’s plan to gradually integrate Western Balkan countries could help solidify democratic and economic development. The German Council presidency has stated its aim for the EU to act visibly and effectively to build resilience and work towards EU accession for Western Balkan countries. However, concurrent enterprises such as the EU’s economic recovery plan for the region and its Regional Economic Area (REA) initiative risk contending with regional strategies, such as Serbia, Albania, and North Macedonia’s ‘Mini-Schengen plan’, instead of complementing them. Political and economic development depends on strengthening the capacity of the region as a whole, encouraging stability, and bringing all countries closer to the EU. The EU must find ways to address these and other challenges and act as a bridge for Balkan nations to overcome their divides to avoid merely propping up the region. A strong foundation based on a regional agenda of shared interests, strong leadership, and economic development will enable the Balkan region to stand on its own feet and encourage thriving, stable democracy. Right now, aligning post-COVID economic recovery with political reforms presents another opportunity to take a step in the right direction.
- How can the EU recovery plan, the Regional Economic Area and the ‘Mini Schengen’ plan complement each other? Should any financial support be linked to reforms?
- What are the current most significant challenges facing the development of a regional agenda, and how can the EU provide support in overcoming these?
- How can regionalisation bring Western Balkans countries closer to EU accession?