Recalibrating EU Policy towards the Western Balkans

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

“The time is now ripe for a new stage in the pre-accession process for the Western Balkans to begin,” argues Michael Emerson, research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), in an October policy brief.

Emerson makes the case for the Western Balkan countries to “enter into the customs union,” putting an end to the “complicated procedures” of the current trade agreements that the region’s governments have with the EU. Moreover, the Western Balkans would “be doing what is necessary in any case for accession, with the adoption of the common external tariff and administrative aspects of customs procedures,” he contends. 

Emerson believes that the EU institutions should not adopt a negative attitude towards “the unilateral adoption of the euro by non-member states”. Allowing non-member states to adopt the euro would not only dampen “their temptation to indulge in unsustainable budgetary policies,” but would also “eliminate exchange transaction costs, improve the transparency of cost accounting and clinch the credibility of perceptions of the business community of these countries,” he argues. 

On the other hand, Emerson praises the EU’s move towards visa liberalisation to facilitate access to the bloc by Western Balkan citizens. But he calls on the Commission to “specify the conditions and timelines for scrapping visas”. Indeed, the decision to scrap visas “should be put onto a fast track, since it is central to the aspirations of the people of the region,” the author states. 

Emerson believes the Western Balkans could also be “put on track for access to the Structural Funds on terms and scales progressively approaching those from which new member states such as Bulgaria and Romania already benefit”. 

Given the Union’s recent experiences of gross corruption in the use of EU funds by new member states, Emerson claims there should be “conditions for major increases in the volume of aid in the Western Balkans, including programmes to improve judiciaries and the implementation of anti-corruption standards”. 

While all of these proposals favour increased participation in EU policies before accession, Emerson closes by recalling that “this still leaves the final test of conformity with all the Copenhagen criteria before accession”. 

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