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The Western Balkans on the Way to the EU: Revisiting EU Conditionality

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Part of the Balkan Yearbook of European and International Law book series (BYEIL,volume 2020)


In this paper, the author systemically analyses the European Union accession conditionality applied in respect of Western Balkan countries and discusses the causes for its failure to produce the expected results. She claims that European Union conditionality in the Western Balkans is qualitatively and quantitatively different from that experienced in earlier enlargements. Adopting various instruments, the European Union has built a pyramid of conditions to be fulfilled by the Western Balkan countries and has expanded their content. However, even if detailed and scrupulously monitored, European Union conditionality does not always meet its target due to a set of reasons.


  • EU accession
  • EU conditionality
  • Western Balkans

This paper was written on the basis of the Master Thesis defended by the author in the King’s College London, Dickson Poon School of Law (United Kingdom).

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  • DOI: 10.1007/16247_2020_16
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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    The WB countries in this paper include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. However, Croatia enjoys a particular status on this list, as it became an EU Member State as of 1 July 2013. Accordingly, where appropriate, references to the WB states as aspirant countries exclude Croatia.

  2. 2.

    Bieber (2012), p. 1.

  3. 3.

    See, e.g., European Council (1993), Presidency Conclusions of the European Council in Brussels. 29 October 1993, DOC/93/7. Annex I: Declaration on the situation in former Yugoslavia and on humanitarian aid for Bosnia-Herzegovina,; European Council (1994), Declaration on Former Yugoslavia adopted by the European Council. Meeting on 9 and 10 December 1994 in Essen,; European Union (1995), Declaration by the European Union on the Situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 29 May 1995, PESF795/51, However, much different involvement was needed at that time – as a remainder of that the monument stands in Sarajevo named “ICAR Canned Beef Monument” depicting a tin-can, a sad allusion to the food aid provided by the EU during the Siege of Sarajevo though military actions were awaited.

  4. 4.

    Declaration on the Process of Stability and Good Neighbourliness, Royaumont, 13 December 1995. The meeting included representatives of EU Member States, Yugoslavia successor counties, four neighbouring counties, the United States of America, Russia, the Council of Europe and the OSCE.

  5. 5.

    See further Ehrhart (1999), pp. 327–346; Knezović (2009), pp. 93–113; Roumeliotis (1998).

  6. 6.

    No conditionality is applicable to humanitarian aid which may be granted solely on an evaluation of need and without prior reference to the authorities in the area.

  7. 7.

    Council conclusions and policy paper on former Yugoslavia. Bulletin EU 10-1996.

  8. 8.

    Council conclusions on guidelines for former Yugoslavia. Bulletin EU 10-1995.

  9. 9.

    Council conclusions and simultaneously adopted Declaration on former Yugoslavia. Bulletin EU 1/2-1996.

  10. 10.

    Pippan (2004), p. 222.

  11. 11.

    Blockmans (2007), p. 244.

  12. 12.

    Council of the European Union (1996), Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union on recognition by the EU Member States of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. 6399/96, P. 30/96, Bruxelles, 9 April 1996.

  13. 13.

    OJ L 204, 14.8.1996, pp. 1–5. This regulation is no longer in force.

  14. 14.

    Pippan (2004), p. 223.

  15. 15.

    7738/97 (Presse 129).

  16. 16.

    Pippan (2004), pp. 224–225.

  17. 17.

    Available at In 2008, the Stability Pact has been superseded by the Regional Co-operation Council.

  18. 18.

    1999/345/CFSP: Common Position of 17 May 1999 adopted by the Council on the basis of Article 15 of the Treaty on European Union, concerning a Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe, OJ L 133, 28.5.1999, pp. 1–2.

  19. 19.

    Phinnemore identifies that, as witnessed in the CEE countries, the ‘carrot’ of membership has been a useful tool for encouraging governments and electorates to support reform. Phinnemore (2003), p. 98.

  20. 20.

    Conclusions available at (Santa Maria da Feira European Council) and (Thessaloniki European Council).

  21. 21.

    Blockmans (2007), p. 244.

  22. 22.

    Some authors argue that the entire philosophy of the SAP reflected EU’s unwillingness to offer a clear membership perspective to the WB countries. Even the assignment of SAP portfolio to the DG External Affairs, not to DG Enlargement (such re-assignment happened only in 2005) evidenced such initial doubts. See Fakiolas and Tzifakis (2008).

  23. 23.

    Conclusions of the General Affairs Council of 21 June 1999, COM(99) 235 of 26.5.99.

  24. 24.

    Communication from the Commission to the Council on operational conclusions – EU stabilisation and association process for countries of South-Eastern Europe Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania, COM/2000/0049 final, Bruxelles, 2.3.2000, p. 2.

  25. 25.

    Pippan (2004), p. 219.

  26. 26.

    See Council Regulation (EC) No 2007/2000 of 18 September 2000 introducing exceptional trade measures for countries and territories participating in or linked to the European Union’s Stabilisation and Association process, amending Regulation (EC) No 2820/98, and repealing Regulations (EC) No 1763/1999 and (EC) No 6/2000, OJ L 240, 23.9.2000, pp. 1–9.

  27. 27.

    See Council Regulation (EC) No 2666/2000 of 5 December 2000 on assistance for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, repealing Regulation (EC) No 1628/96 and amending Regulations (EEC) No 3906/89 and (EEC) No 1360/90 and Decisions 97/256/EC and 1999/311/EC, OJ L 38, 8.2.2001, pp. 1–6.

  28. 28.

    For more detailed analysis see Phinnemore (2003), pp. 77–103; Pippan (2004), p. 233.

  29. 29.

    Croatia and the then Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia were the first WB countries to sign their SAAs in 2001, followed by Albania and Montenegro only in 2007, while Serbia and Bosnia were the last ones in 2008.

  30. 30.

    Council Regulation No 533/2004, OJ L 86; Council Decision 2004/519/EC, OJ L 223, 24.6.2004, pp. 20–29; etc.

  31. 31.

    2004/518/EC: Council Decision of 14 June 2004 on the principles, priorities, and conditions contained in the European Partnership with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. OJ L 222, 23.6.2004, pp. 20–28. This decision was later repealed.

  32. 32.

    2004/515/EC: Council Decision of 14 June 2004 on the principles, priorities and conditions contained in the European Partnership with Bosnia and Herzegovina. OJ L 221, 22.6.2004, pp. 10–16. This decision was later repealed.

  33. 33.

    EU Enlargement Factsheet. Close-Up on Enlargement Countries: Croatia,

  34. 34.


  35. 35.

    European Commission (2020), Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Enhancing the accession process – A credible EU perspective for the Western Balkans. COM(2020) 57 final, Bruxelles, 5.2.2020, p. 1.

  36. 36.

    For discussion see, e.g., Economides (2020).

  37. 37.

    Hillion (2011a), p. 187.

  38. 38.

    See supra Sect. 2.

  39. 39.

    The Lisbon Treaty abandoned the former wording that the EU is “open” to any European state, and introduced the “may apply” phrase. As some academics claim, this omission implies certain political reticence to further enlargements. Inglis (2009), p. 145.

  40. 40.

    The Lisbon Treaty introduced a new sentence to Article 49 which states that “the conditions of eligibility agreed upon by the European Council shall be taken into account”. This undoubtedly refers to the Copenhagen criteria and allows setting additional eligibility conditions.

  41. 41.

    For extensive analysis see Pridham (1991), Payno and Sampedro (1983), Hillion (2004).

  42. 42.

    Hillion (2011b), p. 489.

  43. 43.

    Smith (2003), p. 110.

  44. 44.

    For such classification see Hillion (2011a), p. 193.

  45. 45.

    Copenhagen European Council, 21–22 June 1993, SN 180/1/93.

  46. 46.

    As stated by Zhelyazkova, Damjanovski, Nechev and Schimmelfennig, the current EU enlargement strategy has significantly enhanced the determinacy of the process by specifically framing the rule-of-law conditionality into a much stricter and more coherent system of compliance monitoring than it was the case for the CEE candidate countries. In contrast with the previous rounds of enlargement, in order to obtain EU membership, the WB candidate countries are required not only to adopt the EU regulations and conditions set out in the negotiating chapters, but also to have the most difficult acquis effectively and sustainably implemented before accession. Zhelyazkova et al. (2018), pp. 22–23.

  47. 47.

    Probably the first detailed explanation is European Commission (2000), Agenda 2000. Part. II – The challenge of enlargement, COM(97)2000, Bruxelles, 15.7.1999. Bulletin EU 5/79, pp. 39–60.

  48. 48.

    Hillion (2004), p. 13.

  49. 49.

    See supra Sect. 1.

  50. 50.

    See Fakiolas and Tzifakis (2008), p. 382. See also Noutcheva (2006).

  51. 51.

    See European Commission (2002), Report from the Commission of 3 April 2002 – The Stabilisation and Association process for South East Europe – First Annual Report. COM(2002)163– 2002/2121(COS). Bruxelles, 3.4.2002.

  52. 52.

    For a more extensive list of regional cooperation initiatives see Mameli (2011), pp. 10–12.

  53. 53.

    Blockmans (2009), p. 212.

  54. 54.

    See Sasse (2004), pp. 78–79.

  55. 55.

    See, e.g. Kacarska (2019).

  56. 56.

    Commission Staff Working Document. North Macedonia 2019 Report. SWD(2019) 218 final, Brussels, 29.5.2019.

  57. 57.

    Ohrid Framework Agreement of 13 August 2001,

  58. 58.

    See Sasse (2004, 2005), Schwellnus (2008).

  59. 59.

    Noutcheva (2012), pp. 62–63.

  60. 60.

    Final Agreement for the Settlement of the Differences as Described in the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 817 (1993) and 845 (1993), the Termination of the Interim Accord of 1995, and the Establishment of a Strategic Partnership between the Parties (Prespa, 17 June 2018)

  61. 61.

    Marušić (2019).

  62. 62.

    Giamouridis (2007), p. 184. See also Wallace (2003), p. 3.

  63. 63.

    Richter and Wunsch (2020). See also Keil (2018); Fazekas and Tóth (2016).

  64. 64.

    See country reports, available; Freedom House Reports, available

  65. 65.

    On the notion of state capture see in particular Hellman et al. (2000).

  66. 66.

    See, e.g., Knezović (2009), pp. 109–111.

  67. 67.

    Bjelotomić (2020). As regarding North Macedonia, see Damjanovski (2014). This study detects a correlation between the dynamics of the support for EU membership and the development of the North Macedonian EU accession process that is manifested in two indicative periods: the period from 2004 to 2009 as a period of consistent and particularly high level of support; and the period from 2010 to 2014 as a period of an incremental decrease in the public support for the EU integration process.

  68. 68.

    See general and country specific positions analysed in Balfour and Stratulat (2015).

  69. 69.

    Spring 2019 Standard Eurobarometer: Europeans upbeat about the state of the European Union – best results in 5 years,

  70. 70.

    Wunsch (2015), p. 45.

  71. 71.

    Zhelyazkova et al. (2018), pp. 23–24.

  72. 72.

    Kovačević (2020).

  73. 73.

    See similarly Blockmans (2012), p. 2.

  74. 74.

    Giamouridis (2007), pp. 195–196.

  75. 75.



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Limante, A. (2021). The Western Balkans on the Way to the EU: Revisiting EU Conditionality. In: Meškić, Z., Kunda, I., Popović, D.V., Omerović, E. (eds) Balkan Yearbook of European and International Law 2020. Balkan Yearbook of European and International Law, vol 2020. Springer, Cham.

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