When we decided to publish an edited piece on the Western Balkans and submitted our proposal to Peter Lang Publishing in early 2017, our intention was to produce a volume that would discuss the region’s Europeanization process through the lens of corruption and regional relations.
We opted for these two EU accession perspectives chiefly because we were, and still are, certain that Europeanization of the region has been a failure, and that the Western Balkans is not only plagued by systemic corruption but also that regional relations remained fragile.
In that regard, we wanted to come up with a volume that would delve into the theory of Europeanization, and expose its weaknesses and limitations in the case of the Western Balkans.
Having been inspired by a number of authors whose criticism of the Europeanization process of the region was considerable, we managed to form a team of both academics and practitioners whose expertise on the given topics allowed us to compile the volume. We opted only to look at the post-Yugoslav space; our book does not discuss Albania, which nevertheless belongs to the region at hand.
Hence, we did not only aim to “fill a gap in the field” – no such volume existed at the time but to above all provide comprehensive empirical analysis that would possibly serve both practitioners engaged with, and in, the region, and academics alike.
This is how Balkanizing Europeanization: Fight against Corruption and Regional Relations in the Western Balkans came about.
Published this year in May, the book discusses the two aforementioned research issues that represent crucial criteria in the Western Balkans EU accession process.
While systemic corruption threatens the stability and integrity of state institutions, and undermines citizens’ trust in state services and the existing apparatus, fragile regional relations constantly fall prey to nationalist discourses that politicians resurrect from time to time to serve the temporary goals of everyday politics.
While media freedoms in the region are shrinking, domestic political elites continue to fail to deliver the real change that would truly open the way for their states to attain EU membership.
Our volume discusses in depth why the Europeanization of the Western Balkans has failed so far, and why such limited results of this process, in relation to the two issues researched, have been achieved.
Analyzing the situation in all the post-Yugoslav republics, we highlight the inability and unwillingness of political elites to truly fight corruption in the region, often influenced by various domestic veto players – both formal and informal – whose interests would otherwise be endangered.
These “veto players”, coming from circles close to the political structures, ranging from tycoons to organized crime networks to former police, military and security forces’ officials, impede the fight against corruption and its progress, as Arolda Elbasani, who wrote the concluding remarks of our volume, has stated on several occasions.
Additionally, in its widely criticized “stabilitocratic” approach to the region, Brussels has compromised democracy while prioritizing the need to have the region stable and peaceful.
And while domestic political elites trust that the EU is not really bent on “pushing the right buttons” in the fight against corruption, as with many other aspects of democratic transition, the EU’s influence in the region unfortunately continues to bring about mostly only formal, and hence limited and superficial, domestic structural changes.
Hence, evidence of real domestic reforms is scarce, while the domestic political elites continue in theory but not in practice to support the EU integration process, and are proud to be seen as reformists. This is the reason why our volume concludes, as Arolda Elbasani concluded, that the transformative power of the EU in the region is both unproven in theory and hollow in practice.
A somewhat better looking picture emerged in the regional relations department. Here, the EU has managed to make the Western Balkan states build more comprehensive relations and open channels of mutual cooperation.
Regardless of its success in this field, the region remains plagued by issues of the past, however, as nationalist agendas from time to time jump in, drawing on the same rhetoric that helped the region go up in flames in the 1990s.
It seems that, even in this regard, the EU has not chosen the right course of action: while the domestic political elites do indeed keep the region “stable”, they nonetheless reach for nationalist logic whenever they see it fit, ultimately because they need to prove to their voters that they are truly patriotic.
And while these lapses into the nationalist past may be nothing more than just temporary lapses (perfectly embodied by Serbia-Kosovo relationship), they have nevertheless at times raised tensions in the region.
It seems, therefore, farcical to believe (on the part of the EU above all) that truly undemocratic and increasingly authoritarian domestic politicians, whose agendas sway between the nationalist past and supposed European future, can actually deliver and manage to successfully lead their countries to EU membership.