The EU and the Balkans at the End of the Second Decade of the 21st Century


In cooperation with

An International Conference

 Corinth, Greece 4-5 June 2018

Eleven years after Romania and Bulgaria became full EU members on the 1st of January 2007 and nearly fifteen years after the EU officially offered an ‘EU future’ to the remaining  (Western) Balkan states with the adoption of the Thessaloniki Agenda in June 2003, EU relations with all the countries in this region remain ‘complex’ at best. Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia (so far the only Western Balkan state able to fulfil the tightened EU accession conditions since 2006,  becoming the newest EU member in 2013), have been considered as somewhat ‘incomplete’ members of the EU which still need to work hard to reach the level of  democratisation and socio-economic standards set by the ‘old’ EU members. Although the  prospects for the acceleration of the (almost stalled) integration of several official candidates and two potential candidates for EU membership from the Western Balkans have considerably improved after the defeat of Euro-sceptic parties in the Dutch and particularly French elections in the first half of 2017, the ‘EU future’ of these countries remains uncertain as they still need to overcome many domestic (primarily political) challenges as well as the reluctance of large circle(s) of the EU’s political elite to accept the inevitability of their ‘EU future’. Moreover, pressured by a series of crises that since the early 2010s have negatively affected the prospects for further European integration, particularly Brexit, EU officials and political leaders have continued to postpone the final resolution to the sovereign debt crisis in Greece and seem to have forgotten that Erdogan’s Turkey is still an official candidate for EU membership.

The conference seeks to address the relationship between the EU and the political and socio-economic developments in the Balkan states from various angles.

The following thematic topics are expected to be discussed in greater detail:

  1. The remaining challenges and obstacles to EU accession of the Western Balkan candidates and potential candidates for EU membership
  2. The EU’s peace and statehood-building efforts in the Western Balkans – failures and achievements
  3. The EU’s Structural Funds in South-East Europe: the impact on governance
  4. ΕU pre-accession aid to the Western Balkans: lessons (not) learned
  5. Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia: new EU members with ‘Balkan problems’
  6. The EU and the (solution of the) Greek crisis
  7. Is Turkey still a candidate for EU membership?

Keynote Addresses:

The European Union and South Eastern Europe - perspectives for an unfinished agenda

Throughout its history, “deepening” and “widening” of the European Union have inherently reinforced each other. After more than a decade of crisis management and damage control on several fronts, a new potential for relaunching a deepened European Union is emerging. The outcome of the current hope for a relance européenne remains to be seen, but its very emergence provides new political space for the renewal of a parallel dynamics on the pending enlargement agenda. The more Southeast Europe is addressing and contributing to a common European agenda – i.e. on matters of external border management, public governance or economic competitiveness – the faster Southeast Europe can connect with the current trend of a relance européenne.
The recent defreezing of the EU debate on enlargement towards the ‚Western Balkans‘ reflects the insight that only full inclusion of all Southeast European countries can be a strategic choice for the EU. However, the new discovery of a ‚Western Balkans‘ priority in EU neighborhood policies does not transform or eliminate ongoing skepticism across the EU about an early comprehensive enlargement towards all remaining Southeast European countries. The existing asymmetries among and serious shortcomings within the possible EU member states from Southeast European indicate that the process of enlargement will remain gradual, contradictory and, most likely, bumpy.
The European future of the ‚Western Balkans‘ remains indispensably linked to the ability and will of all societies and states of the ‚Western Balkans’ to project themselves as an inherent asset to a stronger European Union. In order to advance such a sea shift in perception, Southeast Europe as a whole must do the utmost to liberate itself from the burden which is continuously reinforced by the misnomer ‚Western Balkans‘. Instead of invoking past failure or prevailing deficits, it is of the essence to reflect in more practical terms about the strategic relevance of Southeast Europe as provider of stability for the European Union. The EU and all of Southeast Europe need to urgently accelerate the implementation of the many existing strategies and fine ambitions.

Speaker: Professor Ludger Kühnhardt, Zentrum für Europäische Integrationsforschung (ZEI)/ Center for European Integration Studies (ZEI), University of Bonn, Germany

The political economy of EU assistance to the Western Balkans: complementarity, coordination and competition

This lecture examines the broad scope of international assistance to the Western Balkans. While the largest donor is the EU, assistance from other external actors has a significant impact on the development and transformation of the region. Other major donors include the USA, Switzerland and Norway, bilateral EU donors such as Germany, and the “new” external actors: China, Russia, and UAE. The lecture discusses how the interaction between these disparate interests affects the unfolding of the EU accession agenda in the region. Its focus on complementarity, coordination and competition refers, from a practical point of view, to the EU Code of Conduct for development assistance, as well as the recent focus on the sector wide approach. It also references the theory of principal-agent interactions in donor assistance and the problem of multiple principals and multiple agents. In recent years, the donor landscape in the Western Balkans has been transformed by innovations in EU assistance and the changing profile and scale of international interventions. Diminishing flows of private finance and non-concessional international assistance have been only partly offset by increased flows of official development assistance. Consequently, there is an urgent need to improve the effectiveness of international assistance. Many donors are active in multiple sectors, while within sectors there are often too many donors, providing many opportunities for specialisation and rationalisation of donor effort. The analysis also revealed substantial scope to improve the matching of donor interventions to domestic priorities, especially in the sectors such as social policy, human rights and minorities, and agriculture and rural development. New and emerging donors typically have fewer conditions than traditional donors aligned to the EU enlargement process, potentially undermining the ‘transformative power’ of EU interventions. Efforts should therefore be made to involve the new donors in existing donor coordination mechanisms, and to adopt a more flexible approach to conditionality that reflects the realities of the new donor landscape.

Speaker: Dr. William Bartlett, Senior Research Fellow, European Institute, LSE, London, UK

Attendance requires registration, either online or in person at the register office of the conference.

Participants will receive a Certificate of Attendance.

Conference Organisers:

  • Assoc. Prof. Nikolaos Tzifakis, Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of the Peloponnese.
  • Dr. Milenko Petrovic, Jean Monnet Chair, Senior Lecturer Above the Bar, National Centre for Research on Europe, University of Canterbury.

Conference Programme Coordinators:

  • Thematic topics 1, 2 and 5: Dr. Milenko Petrovic, Jean Monnet Chair, Senior Lecturer Above the Bar, National Centre for Research on Europe, University of Canterbury.
  • Thematic Topic 3 and 4: Dr. Manos Papazoglou, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of the Peloponnese.
  • Thematic Topic 6 and 7: Dr. Efstathios T. Fakiolas, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of the Peloponnese.

For any further information please contact Ms. Eleni Georgoulia (