Living in union has long been a dream of European states. The Western Balkans have been an important part of the European continent throughout history. After the conflicts of the late 20th century, the region has stabilized and oriented on a process of integration with the European Union (EU).
Every country that wants to join the EU has an ambition. For the Western Balkan countries, this goal has been security. Considering the possibility of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict spreading to the region, the Balkan countries’ desire to join the EU has also decreased. This crisis has brought the EU’s enlargement process back to the agenda.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the Western Balkan countries started to attract attention with their commitment to EU accession and reform efforts. Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania want the enlargement of both the EU and the Western Balkans “as soon as possible, but no later than 2030”.
The Union is fully committed to the integration of the Western Balkans into the EU. This is a common strategic objective uniting the whole region and the EU. In line with this goal, the main vision of the Union has been to unify and frame Europe as a whole. As a matter of fact, since 1993, the number of members has been tried to be increased through negotiations that have continued in the same manner. Issues such as interest, security and cooperation, which are the main triangulation points of every regional union, have also manifested themselves dominantly in the EU. The 1993 Copenhagen Summit set out what are known as the “Copenhagen Criteria”, it is a basic guideline for countries wishing to become a member of the Union  Countries wishing to join the Union must be based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law, prioritize human rights, have the capacity to implement the competition market, and make sacrifices to act together in many areas.
For the first time, the countries of the Western Balkans joined the EU in 2003 at the Thessaloniki Summit. Since then, although various steps have been taken for the EU membership of these countries, the EU enlargement has experienced many setbacks. Albania tried to establish close contacts with the Union in the 1990s and tried to speed up the process by establishing good relations with Greece and Italy. However, the process had to be postponed due to the lack of economic and political union. The so-called “Stabilization and Association Process” was a leading step towards EU membership in 1999. As a potential candidate country, Albania entered the negotiation process with the Union in March 2020.
Serbia, on the other hand, had to slowly activate the EU membership process slowly due to the struggles in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. In 2000, Serbia’s first ambition was to become a full member of the EU under the “Stabilization and Association Process”. Potential candidacy was only abandoned on March 1, 2012, and the candidacy process started on that date. The process has been slow due to the Serbian public’s perception of the EU and the security crises on the Kosovo side. At the same time, the possibility of political instability and re-radicalization of the Balkans if Serbia does not join the EU has been a source of concern for the EU. As of 2020, negotiations with Serbia continue at full swing.
Montenegro, which is more similar and conflict-free than other Western Balkan countries, entered the reform process after declaring its independence in 2006. A year later, the “Stabilization and Association Agreement” was signed, Montenegro’s candidate country status was approved in 2010 and the negotiation process was officially launched in 2012. Montenegro’s invitation to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a member in 2015 attracted the EU’s interest and became an important criterion. However, Montenegro’s progress on economic union has slowed down the process.
North Macedonia applied for candidacy in 2004 and was accepted in 2005. In 2009, North Macedonia was also included in the “Stabilization and Association Process”. However, this could not fully start due to Greece’s veto right. At the same time, the Greek obstacle also manifested itself for NATO. With the International Court of Justice process, it was decided to start negotiations with North Macedonia in March 2020.
Bosnia and Herzegovina experienced a difficult EU candidacy process due to its complex structure. Only in 2015, the “Stabilization and Association Process” was accepted. Afterwards, the candidacy process was initiated.
Kosovo is a state where the process has been activated relatively recently, as it is the most recently independent state compared to other Western Balkan countries. The country joined the “Stabilization and Association Process” in 2006. The fact that some EU countries still have not recognized Kosovo makes the country’s candidacy difficult. These countries have their own reasons. For example, according to the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus (GASC), an EU member state, it is a legally invalid event. If it is accepted, it is thought that it would set an example within their region and lead to mistrust.
The possibility of EU membership opens a great door for the improvement and progress of the Western Balkan countries in various senses. It is also an important contribution to the EU’s enlargement process and the framing of Europe as a whole. The resulting trust, political and economic union can open the door to international greatness and immunity.
The reluctance of both sides prolongs these processes. It can be said that the reasons for this reluctance are the internal and external struggles of the Western Balkan states, which still occasionally manifest themselves today, and the lack of structures to form political and economic unions. The EU’s reluctance lies in its inability to control the enlargement processes well. While it defends the idea of union, there is only a so-called union among the countries within it. The EU should take the necessary steps immediately to prepare for expansion, instead of leaving its membership promise inconclusive and disappointing the region.
 “The EU and the Western Balkans Towards A Common Future”, EEAS, https://t.ly/ztgG5, (Erişim Tarihi: 15.09.2023)
 “Avrupa Birliği’nin Genişlemesi”, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Dışişleri Bakanlığı, https://www.ab.gov.tr/avrupa-birliginin-genislemesi_109.html, (Erişim Tarihi: 15.09.2023).
 Tatar-Armişen, “Batı Balkan Devletleri ve Avrupa Birliği Genişlemesine Etkisi”, Dergipark, https://dergipark.org.tr/tr/download/article-file/2228850, (Erişim Tarihi: 15.09.2023)