A quiet but fundamental shift is under way in the European Union’s policy on the Western Balkans. With the term of the current European Commission nearing its end, it seems that any plans for enlarging the union are following suit. Enlargement is becoming the policy that shall not be named – at least, in town hall meetings and parliaments in western Europe.
It is no secret that most of the European public is against enlargement – as an upcoming ECFR survey demonstrates. (Strikingly, Austrians and Germans, who host the largest Balkan diasporas as a share of population, are among those who are most sceptical about enlargement.)
But, as Eurobarometer confirms, this trend is not new. What has changed is policymakers’ clear commitment not to deviate from public expectations on peripheral issues such as this one. “Because of the fear for [sic] foreign immigration”, one German MP explained recently, “people in my constituency would notice – and scrutinise – a decision to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia. Even though it is just a small step, far away from accession, it will be perceived critically by the public at this moment.”
Of course, the reasons for this defensive posture go beyond the migration crisis. They have to do with Romania’s and Bulgaria’s difficult transformations into member states, with the rule of law deficits in Poland and Hungary, and with the lack of leverage that other member states and EU institutions have over these countries.
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The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its author.