This paper intend to report on the accession process of the European Union, focusing on the viewpoint of two of the Western Balkan countries waiting for their integration: Albania and North Macedonia. As there were times when not less than ten countries were integrated into the EU at once, questions might be raised on how they managed to make it happen back then, with fewer resources, and why can’t they make it happen now when there is much more money behind the EU and much more power to shape those countries and to help them through integration. On the other hand, sometimes it’s a disadvantage that the Union is counting 27 member states. With this many countries, there are always going to be at least two who cannot exist next to one another in the same community. Since the accession of a country has to be unanimously voted upon, these disputes between countries can become the sole reason one cannot be accepted into the European Union. Even if we look over this, there is still the fact of how those states are heavily supported by Russia. If we explore the case of former states of Yugoslavia, they are still lagging behind financially and still can’t quite let go of the Russian influence, which in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is not a very good quality for EU accession.
Keywords: accession process; European Union; Albania; North-Macedonia; integration; Russia,
Since the beginning of the European Union’s history when the idea to unite and strengthen the bond between the states had first arisen, a myriad of countries wished to join this initiative. However, back then, when the Union was known as the European Economic Community (EEC) the requirements for joining the Community were way less developed. At the time of the EEC, the only criteria those who wanted to become members had to fulfill, was to be a European country “willing to take part”. This was what we call the first generation of EU enlargement. Since then, times had changed, and after the Copenhagen European Council in 1993 and the Madrid European Council in 1995 a set of criteria has been established which everyone knows as the Copenhagen criteria.
Some people believe that this can only harm the European Union because its standards are too high, and even with programs created to help those wanting to join such as PHARE, ISPA, or SAPARD, the process still puts these countries through many inconveniences to meet said measures. Amid a war causing financial crisis throughout Europe or even the world, we must ask ourselves:
Would it benefit us to open up the EU for more, potentially weaker countries?
Accession of West Balkan countries
When we talk about Western Balkan countries regarding the EU, we have to distinguish between two groups: Potential candidate countries, in which group we can find for example Bosnia and Herzegovina, and actual candidate countries which are, among three others, Albania and North Macedonia.
To become a part of the European Union, each candidate country has to fulfill the Copenhagen criteria which originally consisted of three key elements:
Stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities
The existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union
The ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic & monetary union.
After the 1995 Madrid European Council, one supplementary criterion was included, declaring: the conditions for accession must be created through the adjustment of administrative structures. This was to make sure countries wanting to join have a strong framework that can help them implement the legislation that is uniform among all the members of the Union.
The Copenhagen criteria were created so that post-soviet member states can have a guideline on joining the European Union, as it had been shown at the time of the big bang in EU enlargement between 2004 and 2007. However, this had been notably concentrated toward Eastern European countries, with the exception of Croatia which joined the EU in 2013.
Sadly, one of the main arguments against the accession of more West Balkan countries comes from the conclusions drawn from the Eastern enlargement. With the EU counting 27 member states, there is almost bound to be misunderstandings and bad blood between the states routed in different worldviews caused by the leftovers of communism, and the different levels of development between the Western European countries and the post-soviet member states.
Albania and North Macedonia, one being a former Yugoslavian member state, and the other also heavily influenced by Russia, does not have many allies in the Union, however they both are members of the NATO, which does give them a bit of advantage. Since the decision of enlargement is one that has to be made unanimously, disputes between countries can become the sole reason one cannot be accepted into the European Union.
As has been the case with North Macedonia numerous times, where either Greece or Bulgaria have used their veto power to prevent the country from joining. This state has been in disagreement with Greece over borders and with Bulgaria over how the Bulgarians can’t accept the northern Macedonian having their own language. While Greece seems to have found peace with its neighbor, the conflict with Bulgaria has not been resolved yet.
The problem with Albania is almost the same even though it was never a member of Yugoslavia, it still had close relations with Russia, or China where communism is still intact. However, Albania has a big advantage compared to North Macedonia due to the fact that it recently got rid of its corrupt juridical system and built one up from the ground, based on which many could argue that Albania has fulfilled one of the four criteria to join the EU.
In my opinion during these hard times that the ongoing war has brought on us, it would be a very precarious decision to think about the enlargement of the EU. Both countries in the center of this paper are economically lagging behind.
For them to be able to reach the standards of accession, the EU would have to move large powers to help them overcome their financial and economical problems. Therefore talking about enlargement is not something the European Union needs right now, at least not in the way it used to be. We have to admit the Copenhagen criteria were very effective in their time, but the world has changed a lot since 1995 and has been changing ever since.
Especially now with the war shaping the course of the future, we need to adapt, we need new ideas and a new set of standards by which we can measure the countries wanting to be a part of the Union. All this is in order for the EU to fulfill the main purpose for which it was created: to unite the European countries and to create a stronger integration in which EU citizens can live in peace and prosperity.
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● The Schuman Declaration
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