The Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade organized a roundtable discussion entitled “Strengthening security and stability in the Western Balkans: Role of integration structures” on 14th May in order to evaluate that how Euro-Atlantic integration process enhances security and stability in the Western Balkans. The event was moderated by Anna Orosz, Research Fellow at Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The roundtable discussion started with a warm opening speech given by Mr. Márton Ugrósdy, director of the Institute. He underlined the importance of keeping EU’s enlargement towards the Western Balkans on the agenda as it is essential in sustaining security and stability in the former war-torn region and preserving credibility of the enlargement policy of the Union.
Tanja Miščević, the Head of Negotiating Team for Serbia’s Accession to EU began her speech with the recent challenges of the enlargement agenda of the EU. She explained that although enlargement was one of the major success stories of the EU, especially how it contributed to the democratic transition in the post-communist states, there has been certain changes in the EU’s enlargement agenda since the beginning 2000s with the increasing intervening role of the Council. Furthermore, the candidate countries must comply with increasing number of expectations (more benchmarks, more acquis prior to accession), while the EU often neglects real achievements because of political reasons which undermine the credibility of merit-based approach. She pointed out that the enlargement agenda has been not the priority until recently as a consequence of the current challenges within the Union. In this respect, she highlighted that the outcome of the upcoming European Parliament elections would be of vital importance for the Western Balkan states aspiring for accession to the EU.
Vesko Garčević, Professor of the Practice of International Relations of Boston University and former Ambassador of Montenegro in Brussels (NATO) and Vienna (OSCE) has introduced the tangible results of Montenegro’s NATO membership. By becoming NATO member, Montenegro could become part of a security structure that enhances its stability and security. He admitted that it was not welcomed by all international actors. He argued that the NATO membership has been a critical further step in Montenegro’s EU membership path, although he added that the two organizations differ in various aspects. Enlargement fatigue is very present in both EU and NATO but luckily, this did not hinder NATO deliver towards North Macedonia which finally managed to resolve its name dispute with Greece. He also mentioned the importance of having allies such as Hungary within the EU that intend to keep enlargement high on the agenda.
Pál Péter Schmitt, Deputy State Secretary for EU Policies at Prime Minister’s Office of Hungary is strongly committed to a pro-enlargement agenda, that it would like to include into the strategic goals of the European Union. He argued that accession of these countries is in the national interest of Hungary which has strong geographic, political and economic ties with the region. He also highlighted the importance of a credible EU enlargement strategy which has been lacking so far because of the enlargement fatigue. He also mentioned that the EU should speed up the process since the security and stability of the Western Balkans is the assurance of the security and stability of the EU. Hungary supports the start of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia and would like to ensure credible perspective for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.
The panellists had also a debate on the agenda of EU-Western Balkans relations in which security issues gained priority. Miščević emphasised that EU enlargement is much more than security and she sadly noted that implementation of flagship initiatives included into the priorities of the EU-Western Balkans Summit are stalled. Meanwhile China’s role in building infrastructure raises concerns, as Garčević noted.
The discussion was closed in the hope that after the European Parliament elections, circumstances will improve and EU enlargement agenda will get more support from the EU member states.