An opportunity for political stability and economic prosperity in Europe. The European Union (EU) has long viewed the enlargement process as an extraordinary opportunity to promote political stability and economic prosperity in Europe.
Since 2004, EU membership has grown from 15 to 28 countries, bringing in most states of Central and Eastern Europe and fulfilling a historic pledge to further the integration of the continent by peaceful means. The Western Balkans represent an interesting neighbouring region for the EU from geographic as well as from political and historical perspectives. Since the launch of the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) in 2000, one country from this region (although it is not officially considered part of the “Western Balkans), Slovenia, has joined the EU as early as 2004, while another one, Croatia, became Member State in July 2013. All the other Western Balkan countries have the prospect of becoming Member States, and they are bilaterally engaged with the EU through Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAA) (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia). On its way toward EU membership, each country undergoes different review processes to meet the reform requirements and comply with the so-called EU acquis. The enlargement of the European Union by the accession of these countries will contribute to strengthening stability, freedom and prosperity in Europe as a whole and will be a completion, not just in geographical terms, of the EU, as well as it will strengthen its borders in Southeast Europe.
Nowadays, Croatia is the only Western Balkan country being member of the EU. It is the EU’s newest member (28th), acceding to the EU on July 1, 2013.
Candidate countries. Currently, three of the Western Balkan countries are recognized by the EU as official candidates for membership: Serbia, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (the remaining candidate countries are Iceland and Turkey, which are out of the Western Balkans). While Montenegro and Serbia have only recently begun accession negotiations (June 2012 and January 2014, respectively), Macedonia’s accession negotiations have not started yet largely because of an ongoing dispute with Greece over the country’s official name.
Potential candidate countries. The EU also considers the remaining Western Balkan states of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo as potential EU candidates.
Bosnia and Herzegovina (potential candidate)
Government: Although the last political elections were held in 2010, a central Government composed by a six- party coalition led by Prime Minister Vjekoslav Bevanda was formed only in February 2012, ending a very long deadlock.
Relations with the EU: Bosnia and Herzegovina – along with other Western Balkans countries – was identified as a potential candidate for EU membership in June 2003. Relations between the European Union and Bosnia Herzegovina are regulated by the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) signed in June 2008 (yet not entered into force). Meanwhile, a number of agreements between the EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina have entered into force – visa facilitation and readmission agreements (2008), Interim Agreement on Trade and Trade-related issues (2008).
Government: Croatia has been governed since December 2011 by a centre-left coalition, Kukuriku, led by Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic.
Relations with the EU: On July 1st 2013, Croatia has become the 28th member of the EU, after having spent a decade in carrying out all the reforms needed to bring it into line with EU laws and standards. As for the Euro zone entry, Croatia wants to join it as soon as possible despite the problems that have plagued the currency area in recent years. Anyhow, at the moment the Kuna is not even part of ERM II exchange mechanism – a precondition before joining the euro zone.
Government: Serbia has been governed since April 2014 by a conservative pro-European government led by Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.
Relations with the EU: The accession negotiations with the EU has begun in January 2014. Serbia’s path to membership isn’t easy, as its relations with Kosovo are a sticking point.
Government: since March 2013 Slovenia has been governed by a four-party coalition government led by Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek.
Relations with the EU: Slovenia has achieved all of its main strategic goals regarding its European integration process, not only in terms of EU membership in 2004, but also as for becoming the 13th EU country and the first of the new 2004 EU member states to enter the Eurozone on January 2007.