Jelena Ceranic Perisic
Institute of Comparative Law, Belgrade
CLOSER INTEGRATION OF THE WESTERN BALKAN COUNTRIES WITH THE EUROPEAN UNION ON THE BASIS OF A NEW EU ENLARGEMENT METHODOLOGY
The paper analyzes the possibility of closer integration given to the countries of the Western Balkan by a new EU enlargement methodology. On February 5, 2020 the European Commission issued Communication proposing to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions a new methodology for EU enlargement entitled “Enhancing the accession process – A credible EU perspective for the Western Balkans”. This new methodology should be a step forward in overcoming the stalemate in the EU enlargement process. It was confirmed on Zagreb Summit in May 2020. This methodology relays on four criteria: credibility, stronger political steer, dynamism and predictability. In order to achieve these criteria, they are paired with four instruments: focus on the fundamental reforms, EU-Western Balkans Summits, organization of negotiating chapters in thematic clusters and positive and negative incentives (closer integration, increased funding and sanctions). The focus of this paper is on closer integration. It is envisaged that if country moves on reform priorities agreed in the negotiations sufficiently, this should lead to closer integration of the country with the EU, work for accelerated integration and “phasing-in” to individual policies, the EU market and EU programmes, while ensuring a level playing field. The starting thesis is that, although the new methodology contains certain novelties, most of instruments on which is based are not new, but already known instruments of EU law, only used in a new context. A comparative analysis of the concept of differentiated integration institutionalized by the Founding Treaties in the form of provisions on closer cooperation and the instrument of closer integration envisaged by a new EU enlargement methodology leads to the conclusion that closer integration is only one of the modalities of differentiated integration, phenomena that exist since the very beginning of the European integration. The key difference is that the possibility of closer integration is envisaged even without full membership in the EU. Given the fact that the text of the new methodology is quite general, thy possibility of establishing closer integration opens up a number of practical and theoretical questions. Taking into consideration political, legal and economic challenges that the EU is currently facing, this paper seeks to shed light on some aspects of closer integration that are not discussed in public at all. Special attention is paid to the feasibility of closer integration, as well as to the nature, objectives, scope and perspectives of this instrument of EU law. To summarize, differentiated integration has always been build into the foundations of the European construction. In such a differentiated environment, the Western Balkans countries will also have to find their place.