European Union Enlargement Policy Towards the Western Balkans: Solidarity Check

European Union Enlargement Policy Towards the Western Balkans: Solidarity Check

Jure Požgan, Ana Bojinović Fenko, Faris Kočan
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9055-3.ch005
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This chapter addresses the process of the European Union's enlargement towards the Western Balkan states. It seeks to add to the theorisation of solidarity in international relations (IR) by applying the concept of solidarity to empirical analysis of the EU–WB relationship. The findings show that solidarity as a special relationship has initially been a more relevant framework for understanding the EU-WB relationship. However, the global crises, enlargement fatigue, and great powers competition in the region have forced the EU to strengthen both the special relationship as well as solidarity as a friendship practice. What is currently still missing is a more assertive strategic communications approach by the EU in the WB states in order to be able to continue to strengthen its own legitimacy, the legitimacy of its contribution, and expectations in the solidarity relationship with the WB. Simultaneously, the EU also needs stronger commitment to the liberal values in the EU itself as well as support from other Western powers.
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This chapter addresses the process of the European Union’s (EU’s) enlargement towards the Western Balkan (WB) states. The main conceptual insight arising from the analysis concerns solidarity. Solidarity moved increasingly into political discourse during the 2015–2016 migration crisis, Brexit and especially during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. In his State of the Union address, former President of the European Commission (EC) Juncker (European Commission, 2016) spoke of solidarity being “the glue that keeps our Union together” (p. 16), with current EC President Von der Leyen going even further when stating “Europe has become the world’s beating heart of solidarity” (De la Baume, 2020). Although solidarity is a core value of the EU integration, the Treaties do not shed much light on the concept (Hartwig & Nicolaidis, 2003; Rupnik, 2006). Within the EU Treaty Framework, reference to solidarity is found as either a foreign policy principle (Treaty on the European Union, 2016, Art. 5) and goal (Treaty on the European Union, 2016, Art. 21) or as a “solidarity clause” in the CFSP/CSDP framework, which refers to the EU’s domestic capability for foreign policy action (Treaty on the functioning of the EU, 2012, Art. 222).1 Some researchers recently turned their attention to solidarity within the EU to assess the effects of the poly-crises (e.g. Bobzien & Kalleitner, 2021; Ciornei & Ross, 2021). Of those, not many have considered solidarity and the EU’s action outside of its borders. Although prominent EU scholars have established there was a “massive solidarity deficit of EU foreign policy with neighbouring areas in case of migration crisis” (Dinan et al., 2017, p. 366), studies that apply the solidarity concept to the EU’s external actions remain rare (e.g. Ferreira-Pereira & Groom, 2010; Šalamon, 2017; Schieder et al., 2011).

This chapter seeks to address the research gap outlined above by adding to the theorisation of solidarity in International Relations (IR) and applying the concept to empirical analysis of the EU–WB relationship. Accordingly, the underlying research question is: In which ways has solidarity been present in the EU–WB relationship since the relationship began in 1999? Following the introduction, the second section defines solidarity as a concept in IR. Two complementary yet at times possibly contradictory definitions are proposed: a) solidarity as part of a “special relationship” (Harnisch, 2018); and b) solidarity as one of three practices of friendship (Berenskoetter & van Hoef, 2018). In the third section, the chapter applies these two conceptualisations of solidarity to the EU–WB relationship. While it focuses on the enlargement policy and considers not simply the view on the EU’s solidarity vis-à-vis WB states, it also offers an insight into the accession process, notably the mutuality of solidarity as understood by WB states. Here, an important aspect is identifying existing empirical challenges with respect to understanding solidarity in the EU–WB relationship. This chapter investigates this especially by observing the foreign policy stances of other than EU great powers active in the region, mainly China, Russia and Turkey. The chapter’s empirical part draws on research methods prevalent in Foreign Policy Analysis as an IR subdiscipline – content analysis and the interpretation of secondary and primary sources. The latter are relevant strategic documents of the EU concerning external action and enlargement policy since 1999, along with official statements by WB states’ political leaders in representative (inter)national media particularly between 2020 and 2021 (the COVID-19 crisis). In conclusion, the chapter critically evaluates the empirical findings and answers the research question as to the nature of and challenges to solidarity in the EU–WB relationship.đ

Key Terms in this Chapter

Democratic Backsliding: A gradual decline in the quality of democracy, also the opposite of democratization.

EU Conditionality: An EU strategy of linking the benefits of being an EU member to the fulfilment of certain administrative, economic, legal and political conditions.

Western Balkans: Political neologism introduced by the EU to denote the post-Yugoslav area, including Albania.

Great Powers: Countries that are acknowledged by other actors in the international community to have exceptional political influence, resources and military strength in international politics.

Enlargement: Widening of the EU, also the EU’s policy to achieve this foreign policy goal.

Solidarity: A feeling of unity between two entities that share the same values, interests and goals.

Enlargement Fatigue: Hesitance to grant the EU's membership to new states.

Enlargement Policy: An official EU policy that offers the prospect of membership to countries currently aspiring to join the EU and potential candidates.

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