4 March 2022


“Forced Hand” Scenario

The fulfilment of this scenario is the official aim of the EU and the Western Balkans (WB). However, this desired status quo faces numerous security, axiological, political, economic and social concerns.

  • The EU should not be treated as a panacea for all the political, economic and social challenges at the national level.
  • The Western Balkans should not repeat the mistake made by some of the new EU members of outsourcing problems to the EU tier. Despite its increasing efforts, the EU still does not have the competencies and the capacity to tackle matters at the national level.
  • The EU should stop patronising stabilitocracy and openly articulate its benchmarks while providing a reliable membership perspective.
  • The Western Balkan states should engage in a deep economic reform in search of providing an added value to the common market and escaping from the middle-income trap in advance of the membership.

“Dark Future” Scenarios

Recommendations for EU and NATO

Looking ahead, the main factor which could prevent the materialisation of the most unfavourable elements of the above-mentioned ‘dark scenarios’ is the completion of the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkans. This would symbolically end the era of tragic and long-term post-Cold War disintegration of the region. It would also substantially contribute to political stabilisation, regional integration and economic development both in the Western Balkans and the whole democratic Europe, which is already facing many challenges and risks of the emerging post-post Cold War world.

In order to minimise the challenges and threats to the development of the Western Balkans it is therefore advisable to:

  • put the EU enlargement to the Western Balkans back on the mainstream European agenda;
  • renew the political consensus in the EU on enlargement in the Western Balkans;
  • intensify the accession process and build a clear membership perspective;
  • continue NATO’s political engagement and military presence in the WB region;
  • support the parallel economic integration of the WB countries, implemented simultaneously at the regional and European levels;
  • neutralise the non-transparent actions of Russia and China aimed at increasing their economic presence and political influence in the WB region.

Recommendations for the Western Balkan Countries

There is no doubt that the real progress on the road to EU membership depends to the greatest extent on the Balkan states and their political elites. The future success of this process requires:

  • intensification of internal reforms with regard to democratic standards, rule of law and civil rights;
  • increased support for the post-conflict reconciliation;
  • encourage cooperation and positive relations with neighbouring countries in domestic and international politics;
  • development of economic integration in the WB region;
  • political will (or courage) to ‘relocate’ the bilateral cultural or historical disputes outside the EU accession process;
  • an in-depth comparison of potential benefits, challenges and risks of economic cooperation with Russia and China, as it may hinder the adaptation to requirements of the European single market.

“Elusive Europeanisation” Scenario

  • At the level of civil society, current efforts of its strengthening should be broadened in rural areas, rather than only in urban centres. The younger generations need to become involved by promoting their engagement in the formal educational process. The ethnic focus should be removed from the political debate, giving space for other topics, such as freedom of media or environmental protection. Finally, the EU should invest more funding into promoting civil society advocacy efforts.
  • At the level of the public sector, more digitalisation of the most used public services is needed while service, delivery and policymaking should be guided by citizen/user satisfaction surveys. Connection should be improved, but by using Western telecommunication companies, rather than Chinese ones. In conclusion, the integrity of public administration needs to be strengthened in order to make them resilient to undue political influence.
  • At the elite level, well-meaning current representatives need to invest more energy into building trust and cooperation with civil society, in order to re-focus on society’s needs. Generally, there is an overall need for a change in the political sphere by promoting new political faces.
  • At the level of public investments, the legislation for consultative processes needs to be amended, in order to include CSOs, especially when it is related to EU funding. In light of the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, it is imperative that civil society has its representatives at every stage of the implementation of infrastructure projects, in order to ensure and prevent the syphoning of public money.

“Defragmenting the Western Balkans” Scenario

  • The recent EU political determination to use EU budget transfers in a stick-and-carrot manner to attain better application of the EU values as defined in Art. 2 of TFEU (i.e., human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights). They should be put in the centre of the negotiations for membership since they provide an opportunity for overcoming the pessimistic focus on the past.
  • The Recovery and Resilience Facility of the EU as well as other programmes should receive a regional focus and ask participating countries (including current members of the EU) to invest in projects with multi-country prospects and benefits.
  • It is important that WB remains independent from Russia’s imports of energy resources. This requires that the power sectors of the countries (with more than 50 per cent of the electricity output by lignite Thermal Power Plants) receive a generous grace period for not complying with the anti-carbon policies of the EU.

“Banding Together” Scenario

  • The Western Balkan countries need to be equally represented and have the same amount of power at the negotiation table within the newly created WB initiative. Setting up regular and constructive meetings is crucial to keep the momentum and for the cooperation to deepen further. At the same, the focus should also be put on inclusiveness and representativeness at the top level as it could positively impact the societal level.
  • Diversification of issues being discussed among the countries in various platforms is necessary. Addressing not only the currently most pressing issues (e.g., the pandemic or economic situation) but also structural issues such as questions of statehood, political and religious representation of the citizens and the reconciliation process is vital. This could in effect become a stimulus for deeper democratisation and reconciliation processes within societies across the countries and in effect lead to long-term cooperation.
  • The European Union must reaffirm its stance towards the Western Balkans and their future as a part of the Union. An internal consensus has to be made around the question of another wave enlargement and a clear set of expectations have to be provided to the WB countries. This goes hand in hand with a second point, which is a need for a complete transformation of the enlargement process in order to make the WB countries attracted to the idea of becoming part of the EU.
  • The EU should welcome and praise the strengthening of regional cooperation and support the countries in achieving even more profound integration. It should take an active mediation role in reconciliation and post-conflict resolution without taking the initiative out of the hands of WB leaders. This could result in establishing a legitimate regional platform among the countries.


Narrated by Spasimir Domaradzki, Konrad Pawłowski, Dimitar Nikolovski, Krassen Stanchev, Barbora Chrzova and Anja Grabovac.


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Western Balkans Futures: Five Scenarios for 2030

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