EUROPEAN UNION: NEW ENLARGMENT POLICY METHODOLOGY
THE ENLARGEMENT POLICY OF THE EUROPEAN UNION IN SEARCH FOR REFORM
The fact that the European Union’s (EU) enlargement policy is in crisis is nothing new. For years now, it has been suffering from the ‘business as usual’ approach and disguising the enlargement fatigue and EU member states’ disagreement over widening and deepening the integration. In this article we applied Frank Schimmelfennig and Ulrich Sedelmeier’s external incentives model to the Europeaniyation of Western Balkans, which confirms that the decline of credibility is the most important factor in the decline of the Europeanization effects of the actual EU’s enlargement policy. By setting 2025 as the indicative accession year for frontrunners, the 2018 Enlargement Strategy gave rise to some hope for candidate countries. Just year and a half later, however, the October 2019 meeting of the European Council and the French veto over opening negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia revealed a less optimistic scenario of changing the enlargement methodology. The goal of this article is to critically explore the revised enlargement methodology presented by the European Commission. The main thesis of the article is that it is not the methodology that is at the heart of the failure of the transformative effect of the enlargement process, but in fact it is the lack of EU’s strategic political approach to its enlargement. In recent years, the enlargement policy gradually became more detailed and better organised, providing the EU with a variety of veto points: the negotiating chapters that cover the area of judiciary/fundamental rights and justice/freedom/security are opened at the beginning of the negotiations and remain open until their very end; specific opening, interim, and closing benchmarks are introduced for each chapter, and so on. Moreover, in the negotiating frameworks with Montenegro and Serbia, the EU introduced the “balance clause” through which it can discontinue negotiations on other chapters if progress in the area of judiciary and fundamental rights, justice, freedom and security starts to lag behind. In addition, as clearly stated in the EU’s negotiating frameworks, accession negotiations are not an irreversible process. Therefore, it seems that the revised 2020 methodology has other goals. While a much-needed high-level political engagement through regular EU-Western Balkans summits and intensified ministerial contacts could provide the process with added value, it seems that proposed clusters are paving the way for future permanent differentiated membership forms.
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