MAYNOOTH, IRELAND – Despite its many woes, the European Union remains a lodestar for poorer states outside its borders. Indeed, the gravitational pull of the EU’s enlargement process has been the most important factor in the reconstitution of economic, political, and civic life in the western Balkans since the end of the post-Yugoslav wars of the 1990’s.
Croatia’s accession to the EU on July 1 provides a welcome boost to a region that has been placed on the back burner as a result of “enlargement fatigue” and the EU’s crisis-induced introspection. Enlargement advocates also point to the deal signed by Kosovo and Serbia in April as another key development in unlocking the Balkans’ European future.
The decisive break with more than a decade of war and confrontation came in December 2012, when Kosovo and Serbia began to implement an agreement on border control. The April agreement goes further by establishing a power-sharing arrangement in northern Kosovo that is designed to bolster local self-government through an association of Serb-majority municipalities while providing new arrangements for policing and the judiciary.
The just-concluded meeting of the European Council acknowledged the progress made by both Serbia and Kosovo, with the Serbs being given a (somewhat conditional) start date for accession negotiations and Kosovo to begin a “pre-screening” process. The EU bet here is that, on the back of Croatia’s accession, the enlargement logjam in the western Balkans will finally be broken.