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European Union: Accession of 6 Balkan Nations-Complex & Stalled Negotiations


The negotiations of six Balkan nations accession to the European Union (EU) contains many negotiation lessons:

- Negotiation goals must be clear.

- Despite the goals, negotiators must walk about the circumference to discern issues that may affect the procedures.

- There must be a clear negotiation process.

- There must be attention to both emotional and substantive issues.

- Research and questions must be accomplished to discern the underlying issues.

- The negotiated agreement should be envisioned in the very beginning: the planning stage.

- Delays may occur but must be managed to avoid frustration

At a recent 2021 meeting in Slovenia, according to the BBC:

Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen conceded…that the long wait was causing "impatience" and "frustration". The lack of a decision on even opening negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania was "jeopardising our standing and leverage in the region", "We want the Western Balkans in the European Union." This meeting was a "reaffirmation" of ties. Leyen said that, while there had been progress by Balkan states, there was more to do on fighting corruption and economic reforms.

Accession talks began with six Western Balkan nations in 2003 and now seem stalled for a wide variety of reasons. The nations in question are becoming both alarmed and dispirited.

The EU blames a series of crises for the delay including the economy, migration, Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus EU enlargement has moved down on their “to-do” list.

The six Balkan countries are at different negotiation stages:

- Serbia and Montenegro are the furthest in their negotiations.

- Albania and North Macedonia are waiting to begin formal negotiations.

- Bosnia and Kosovo are considered potential candidates.

Even though the process is very slow, much money is being given to the region with billions in grant funding. The thinking is integrating the economy of these candidate nations might set the political foundation for accession.

What is the state of EU?

According to Wikipedia:

The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of 27 member states that are located primarily in Europe. The union has a total area of 4,233,255.3 km2 (1,634,469.0 sq mi) and an estimated total population of about 447 million. An internal single market has been established through a standardised system of laws that apply in all member states in those matters, and only those matters, where the states have agreed to act as one. EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within the internal market;[10] enact legislation in justice and home affairs; and maintain common policies

A monetary system was established in 1999, coming into full force in 2002, and is composed of 19 member states which use the euro currency. The EU has often been described as a sui generis political entity (without precedent or comparison) with the characteristics of either a federation or confederation.

The union and EU citizenship were established when the Maastricht Treaty came into force in 1993.

EU’s reputation was damaged by Brexit. Brexit may have been precipitated by the poorly managed migration after the 2007 accession to the EU of Romania and Bulgaria.

What is the state of Balkan Nations?

The six nations in question are Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. Talks began in 2003.

Albania is located in Southeast Europe with a population of 3 million. It was isolated for 4 decades under communism until it fell in 1991. It has been a member of the United Nations since 1955. World Bank classifies this economy as “upper middle income economy.**”

Bosnia & Herzegovina (BH) is a war torn country, formerly part of Yugoslavia (breakup 1992). With a population of 4.4 million, BH is 73rd in human development* and is cataloged as a “developing country” (United Nations). It has been a candidate for NATO since 2010. Agriculture and manufacturing are the main parts of the economy with tourism on the rise.

Kosovo, like BH and Albania, is located in Southeast Europe. Its GDP has grown since its independence in 2008. Serbia does not recognize K. K is designated by UN as a developing country with an upper middle income. It is also a member of IMF.

Montenegro is located in Southeast Europe, was part of Yugoslavia and became independent 2006. It is classified as upper middle income economically and #48 on the Human Development Index.

Serbia was part of Yugoslavia and is located in central and southeast Europe. This country of 7 million was declared independent in 2006 and is classified as “upper middle income economy,” providing universal health care and free education. Its economy revolves around energy, automotive industry, etc.

*United Nations The Human Development Index (HDI) is a statistic composite index of life expectancy, education (mean years of schooling completed and expected years of schooling upon entering the education system), and per capita income indicators, which are used to rank countries into four tiers of human development. A country scores a higher HDI when the lifespan is higher, the education level is higher, and the gross national income GNI (PPP) per capita is higher.

At the top of the Index is Norway, Ireland, Switzerland with #17=United States and #62=Costa Rica.

**The World Bank assigns the world’s economies to four income groups—low, lower-middle, upper-middle, and high-income countries. The classifications … 1 and are based on GNI per capita in current USD….(Wikipedia)


President Ursula von der Leyen, Slovenian President: "We are one European family. We share the same history. We share the same values and I’m deeply convinced we share the same destiny, too."

All six nation states are located in southeast Europe and share many borders. Many were part of the Yugoslavian break-up.

Of course, all six desire to be part of the EU and are vulnerable to at least Russia.

What are the political issues?

Becoming a part of EU would place them closer to western Europe and indirectly closer to the United States. It would separate them more from the influence of Russia and China.

Accession might also guarantee an adherence to democratic values.

Is Polexit Imminent?

Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled that key articles of one of the EU's primary treaties were incompatible with Polish law, in effect rejecting the principle that EU law has primacy over national legislation in certain judicial areas.

Poland's most powerful politician, PiS chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski, insists Poland wants to stay in the EU. He accuses the country's fragmented opposition of spreading "fake news" to frighten an electorate that overwhelmingly supports membership, even if more Poles now voice concerns about losing sovereignty to the EU. They acknowledge membership has given Poland access to billions of euros to invest in projects that have visibly transformed the country's landscape, as well as access to the single market.

Turkey and the EU: In 1999, Turkey was recognized as an official candidate for EU membership. By 2005 only 16 of 35 requirements were completed. Now, EU is stating that Turkey has moved further from the EU because of human rights violations and deficits in the rule of law.

Kosovo: Five EU Members have not recognized the sovereignty of Kosovo since it split with Serbia in 2008.

Long Drawn Out Process: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic indicated they were excited about the accession process, but today they don’t care.

Lack of Coherent EU Strategy: Promises were made and not kept.

Language and Identify Issues Between Bulgaria and North Macedonia caused Bulgaria to halt the accession talks with North Macedonia.

Balkan candidates are backsliding on transparency and good government. Some think these countries are heading toward autocracies.

Shadow of Brexit: There exists this shadow. The United Kingdom was a major player in the EU. The United States viewed the UK as “the bridge” between the US and Europe. The full ramifications of the break up remain unpredictable.

- EU has two blocs: protectionist and liberal. The UK pull out weakens the liberal bloc.

- EU somewhat differed to UK on foreign affairs, especially soft diplomatic power. Now ,that is gone.

- The UK constituted 5% of EU budget which is now gone.

- The reintroduction of the customs border will complicate trade economically.

What are the obstacles?

Consensus: EU operates on consensus of all members. French President Emmanuel Macron feels that enlarging to 6 more states will make consensus even more challenging.

Streamlining the EU’s governance might be on the agenda.

EU Members are not in agreement on the process of new membership:

European Council President Charles Michel conceded it was no secret that the 27 member states weren't in agreement about the bloc's capacity to take on new members.

Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia all have "candidate status," although some nations are more advanced in the process than others. Bosnia is still a potential candidate, while Kosovo is not even recognized as a state by some EU members.

Countries are tested on their ability to align with a large body of rules and standards, divided into 35 chapters. It's never a simple process.

Is accession Being Conflated with Immigration?

Following previous EU rapid expansions, enlargement has in some cases become another word for immigration. This can be a rallying call for far-right parties.

France and the Netherlands seem to be the most cautious about this confusion.

Bulgaria and North Macedonia are still arguing about language disputes.

Kosovo and Serbia still have tensions along the border, even to the point where NATO troops were called out recently to alleviate tensions.


The candidate countries are calling for a strong EU message favoring accession.

U.S. President Joe Biden has expressed strong support for accession of these six nations for security international reasons.

If these nations are kept in perpetual wait, this will create a void and other nations such as Russia, Turkey, and China may start calling as the Balkan nations search for other options. Serbia was the first European nation to receive the Chinese COVID-19 vaccine.

This will create a weaker EU.

So, back to the negotiation lessons:

- The negotiation goals are unclear.

- The process is unclear.

- Negotiators have not confronted the extraneous factors that may be affecting the negotiation.

- Negotiators have not identified the obstacles let alone manage them.

- Delays are not being managed but instead causing consternation.

- The ideal final agreement remains elusive.


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site.

Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education

The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray

5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Getting Your Way Every Day.


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