The MAXCAP Working Paper No. 30 “The EU’s Evolving Enlargement Strategies: Does Tougher Conditionality Open the Door for Further Enlargement?” by Antoaneta L. Dimitrova has been published. You can download the Working Paper here.
The paper examines the evolution of the European Union’s enlargement strategy towards the Western Balkans. Since the 2004-2007 enlargement, the European Commission has produced three strategy upgrades: in 2011, 2013 and 2015. Each of these three strategy changes incorporates aspects of the lessons learnt through previous enlargements and ongoing negotiations, but the approach developed in 2015 represents a fundamentally changed method of assessing the candidates’ progress. The changes in terms of the addition of starting, intermediate and final benchmarks, the change of order of negotiation chapters and the renewed emphasis on fundamental reforms in rule of law, democracy and economic governance represent very positive developments responding to the domestic challenges candidate and aspirant states face. Nevertheless, I argue that the new strategies are not likely to help bringing about the major reforms required from Western Balkans states. The main reason for this is the diminished credibility of the EU’s conditionality linked to declining public support for enlargement in existing member states. The EU’s ever stronger conditionality creates a situation in which benefits for local elites are likely to only be realized in the far future, if at all, given citizen opposition to further enlargement. These same elites, therefore, do not have the incentive to deal with fundamental economic and political problems that, if addressed, would result in reforms limiting elite access to rents.
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