Serbia on the EU path: A troublesome journey through uncharted territory

  • Marko Stojić (EUROPEUM)
  • 19.3.2018 15:04

The Commission has recently published the Enlargement Strategy1 for the Western Balkan candidates which, for the first time, outlines an indicative plan for the accession of the two frontrunners – Serbia and Montenegro. § The Strategy specifies that ‘with strong political will, the delivery of real and sustained reforms, and definitive solutions to disputes with neighbours’, the two countries could potentially be ready for membership in a 2025 perspective. At the same time, both countries still face considerable challenges on their protracted EU paths. § How realistic is 2025 as a potential year for Serbian EU accession, and what are the remaining major obstacles to achieving this ambitious goal?

After a series of crises, the EU seems to be finally ready to assume a more assertive role in the Western Balkans. The 2015 migration crisis was an ultimate wakeup call that prompted the EU and its member states to recognise the importance of this region for their own political stability and security. The Union also appears more resolved to counter the growing influence of other actors in the region – most notably Russia – acknowledging that its expansion to the Western Balkans is ‘a geostrategic investment in a stable, strong and united Europe based on common values’. It is, therefore, no surprise that the Strategy affirms that ‘the Western Balkan countries now have a historic window of opportunity to firmly and unequivocally bind their future to the EU’.


There are three major challenges that hinder Serbian EU accession efforts: a lack of dedication of the ruling elite to meet political criteria, the issue of Kosovo’s status and Serbia’s close ties with Russia.

Whether 2025 is a realistic date for Serbian EU accession or not fundamentally depends on two related factors. The first is EU’s resolve to make a strategic political decision to take new members over the next decade and design creative ways to support the candidates’ efforts, focusing on their internal democratic and institutional development. The Enlargement Strategy represents a step in the right direction. It acknowledges that the EU must be an engaged and devoted actor, offering a credible perspective of integration while keeping a strong leverage on the local elites. That is the only way the Union can reverse a growing tendency for Serbia (and other Balkan countries) to be captured by unaccountable oligarchic political elites, and ensure the regional stability in the end.

However, the EU’s transformative power is not unlimited and the EU-induced reforms are not irreversible, most visible in some Central and Eastern European EU members that have lately experienced severe democratic backsliding. The changes are likely to be transformative only if genuinely embraced by the domestic actors. The second factor affecting Serbian EU perspective is, therefore, the governing elite’s ability to commit themselves to meeting the membership criteria, except that this will have a consequence for their vested political and economic interests, and reconcile their claims over Kosovo with EU membership aspirations. The EU should not set the bar too high, though. It must be realistic about the finite capability of these societies to reinvent themselves and the current generation of Serbian (and Western Balkan political leaders in general) to inspire and drive the transformation. Above all, there should be no ambiguity about where Serbia belongs and the direction in which it is heading. Whether the elite has the political will to make such ‘a generational choice’ and use ‘a historic window of opportunities’ to bind Serbian future to the EU still remains uncertain.

Read individual chapters of the analysis on Serbian EU efforts, Kosovo's status and Serbia's close ties to Russia. The analysis was published by the EUROPEUM's Eastern Monitor.

Marko Stojić is Lecturer in the Department of International Relations and European Studies at Metropolitan University in Prague, Czech Republic. He holds a PhD in Contemporary European Studies from the University of Sussex. His research interests focus on the study of European integration, political parties in the Western Balkans and party-based Euroscepticism. He has published in Europe-Asia Studies, Czech Journal of Political Science and Perspectives on European Politics and Society.

About author: Marko Stojić (EUROPEUM)


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