The Western Balkan countries have gone through political and economic reform process in which the European Union (EU) plays a major role. The effectiveness of the EU’s role in the region has been increased through the prospect of EU membership, since the clear EU perspective not only enhances the weight of the EU in tackling political and economic challenges in the region but also provides encouragement for political and economic reform in the Western Balkan countries.
Croatia applied for EU membership on 21 February 2003, its status as a candidate country was confirmed by the European Council in June 2004. The accession negotiations between the EU and Croatia started in October 2005, and as of 20 April 2010 the negotiations have been opened provisionally on 30 out of 35 chapters and provisionally closed on 18 chapters. The Council is supposed to set up the ad-hoc technical working group for the Accession Treaty with Croatia, and Croatia’s accession negotiations with the EU may be concluded within a few years. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia applied for EU membership on 22 March 2004, the Council invited the Commission to submit its opinion on the application on 17 May 2004, and the European Council granted candidate status on 16 December 2005. Montenegro applied for EU membership on 15 December 2008 and the Council requested the Commission to prepare an opinion on the application on 23 April 2009. Albania applied for EU membership in April 2009, Serbia submitted its application for EU membership in December 2009. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU perspective was confirmed in Thessaloniki European Council in June 2003, when Bosnia and Herzegovina became a potential candidate country for EU accession. Among the Western Balkan countries, as the Council of the European Union points out “Kosovo constitutes a sui generis case.” United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 established the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in June 1999, and the status negotiations were started under the auspices of the UN Special Envoy in February 2006. The EU supports Kosovo’s economic and political development through underlining that Kosovo has a European perspective.
These developments in the relations between the EU and the Western Balkan countries address the fact that their future lies in the EU. In the light of this fact, the question of how the European Union has succeeded in increasing its weight in tackling political and economic challenges in the region requires a satisfactory answer.
The answer to this question should build on the conception of the EU as a civilian power suggested by Duchene in the early 1970s and on six factors shaping norm diffusion in international relations suggested by Manners. After Duchene introduced the conception of the European Union as a “civilian power”, much attention was paid to the question of why the EU is a civilian/normative power rather than whether or not it is a civilian/ normative power, for it is indeed impossible to conceive the EU’s international role without referring to its economic and political means. Although the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the European Security and Defence Policy are regarded by some scholars as the militarisation of the EU risking its normative power, the concept of normative power is still the main starting point in analysis of the EU’s foreign policy, and, as Sjursen points out “the conception of the EU as a normative/civilizing power has provided a fruitful avenue for research…”
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* Published in the Second Issue of Political Reflection Magazine (PR).