Loccum, Germany, 14-16 May: The six non-EU countries in the Western Balkans are back in focus. On several occasions the European Commission has clearly stated its intention to put the region on an “irreversible” track towards EU membership before the end of its mandate in 2019. Thus, 2018 looks to be a pivotal year for EU-Western Balkan relations: the new ‘Western Balkans Strategy’ was released by the Brussels´ executive last February and the Bulgarian EU presidency has set its non-EU neighbours as one of the top priorities in the Council´s agenda. Nevertheless, after years of being neglected, will this be enough to move things ahead for the aspiring EU members in the Balkans?
This and other questions were discussed at the international conference, ;Western Balkans Back in Focus: How to Shape Europe´s Reengagement with a Region in Crisis’. The event was co-organised by the Protestant Academy Loccum and the Southeast Europe Association (Südosteuropa-Gesellschaft – SOG). Experts from NGOs, think tanks, and universities from the Western Balkan region and across Europe gathered in Loccum between 14 and 16 of May, discussing how the renewed EU-Agenda affects Western Balkan prospects for accession to the EU and the challenges that this process poses for both the Union and aspirants.
The Western Balkan countries are, in fact, still facing a number of problems: demonstrating clear elements of state capture; lingering ethnic, political, and religious tensions; persisting bilateral disputes among themselves and with EU member states; and limited socioeconomic convergence towards the standards of more developed parts