The Persistence of Illiberal Trend in the Western Balkans Despite the Europeanization Agenda: Internal and External Factors

Canveren Ö.

Balkan 7th International Conference on Social Sciences, Skopje, Macedonia, 3 - 05 February 2023

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Unpublished
  • City: Skopje
  • Country: Macedonia
  • Dokuz Eylül University Affiliated: Yes


At the 2003 Thessaloniki Summit, the European Union (EU) launched the candidacy process for Western Balkan countries. The EU has tried to play a constructive (normative and transformative) role in the region's ongoing post-communist and post-conflict transition processes through an external incentive model and membership incentives. Despite the 20-year period, there have been insufficient and unconvincing changes and transformations in the region's political, economic, and acquis communautaire criteria for the candidate (Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia) and potential candidate (Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo) countries. In other words, the EU's enlargement policy appears to be failing in the Western Balkans. This study examines alternative causal explanations for this failure based on the following internal and external factors. Internal reasons include i) the mode of transition, ii) the emergence of neo-conservatism, and iii) populist leadership in the region over the last decade. External considerations include i) manoeuvring encouraged by alternative powers such as Russia, China, and Turkey, ii) the EU's increasing and changing priorities due to the Euro, Brexit, migration, and Ukraine crises, and iii) the evolution of the balance between long-term values vs. short-term interests (stabilitocracy). It is argued that both regional and global crises provide a favourable environment for the region’s illiberal trend. This negative structure can be degraded to the extent that the EU enhances its capability to manage crises and maintains its internal integrity and stability.