ConferencePublished on 19.05.2022

«State of the Union» conference 2022 on Western Balkan EU integration

Our Academic Head of the International Research and Consulting Centre, Dr Soeren Keil, took part in the 2022 «State of the Union» conference at the European University Institute in Florence. The «State of the Union» brings senior EU officials and elected representatives together with a variety of academics and civil society activities to discuss different aspects of the EU integration process.

Soeren took part in a panel discussing the future of EU enlargement, together with Dr Simonida Kacarska from the European Policy Institute in Skopje and Tonino Picula, a Member of the European Parliament. The panel «EU Conditionality in the Western Balkans: Implications for the Rule of Law» was organized and moderated by Professor Jelena D?anki? from the European University Institute.

Soeren argued that enlargement is a deeply political process, and that without a clearer commitment from the European Union and its member states, it is unlikely that any kind of enlargement will take place soon. The war in Ukraine may have increased the need for enlargement and strengthening the ties between the EU and its neighbourhood, but there remains a lack of commitment and priorization of enlargement within the EU and some of its member states.

The rise of new authoritarian structures in some of the countries of the Western Balkans is a direct result of the failure of the EU – its ability to transform the region, and provide a clear membership perspective. Countries such as North Macedonia, which have engaged actively in wide-reaching reforms, are no closer to membership than countries such as Serbia, where authoritarianism has taken hold under President Vu?i?, with limits on free press and civil society, as well as restrictions for an independent rule of law. EU conditionality will only be effective, if countries see concrete rewards, and have a clear timeline when they can join, so Soeren’s argument. In the absence of a clear EU commitment to the region, it is no surprise that other actors such as Russia and China have become more prominent actors in the region. These arguments are also discussed in Soeren’s new book «New Eastern Question? – Great Powers and the Post-Yugoslav States» which was published with Ibidem Publishers earlier in 2022.