The move is being viewed partly symbolic to breathe life into the bloc as Britain prepares to leave and as a counter-measure in light of an increasingly eurosceptic community. Many of these states have been candidates for lengthy periods of time and each has wondered whether they would be fully accepted in the EU community. However, what is concerning is that there are many underlying issues that need to be overcome within such a short period of time. Even the most optimistic Eurofile cannot fail to see that there are serious underlying issues with this expansion that cannot be easily ignored.
One of the largest issues in the proposed expansion is the issue of sovereign recognition. Serbia for example, does not recognise Kosovo as an independent state, given it is a former territory. Spain, which is in turn struggling with the independence of Catalonia, also refuses to recognise Kosovo and Greece refuses to formally recognise Macedonia. Yet within the next seven years, each one of these countries will be part of the same trading bloc.
Meanwhile both Albania and Montenegro suffer from serious organised crime and corruption issues. As of August 2017, there are 700 documented organised criminals active in Montenegro, and gang violence has led to a murder rate of 35.62 people per million in a country of under 680,000, including 12 gang murder cases in 2016, which are now spilling into Serbia. In addition, Bosnia’s constitution is not considered in line with the EU’s democratic requirements.
Germany, which offers to most amount of funding to candidate states, has expressed a level of caution against just throwing open the doors to six countries with questionable characteristics. German diplomats say they are wary of repeating mistakes made in 2007 with Romania and Bulgaria, which many EU officials believe were allowed to join the bloc before they were ready and are still dogged by corruption and a weak judiciary.
However Bulgaria now holds the EU’s rotating six-month presidency until June 30 and is keen to champion the membership drive of its Western Balkan neighbours by holding a special Balkan summit in Sofia in May.
The EU Commission has stressed that these underlying issues must be addressed before full membership can be granted:
“The rule of law, fundamental rights and governance must be strengthened significantly. Judicial reforms, the fight against corruption and organised crime, and public administration reform need to deliver real results and the functioning of democratic institutions needs to be seriously enhanced.”
This is a high risk move by the EU. There are a lot of changes that are needed in these countries and with EU fatigue at the level that it is, there is a risk that not only the candidate countries but current members lose faith in the EU Project. It is now starting to seem that the EU is trying to secure it’s place in the world and it’s not quite sure how to do it and it’s more dedicated to its expansion than protecting those already in its bloc.