Ukraine’s heroic resistance against Russia’s aggression has spurred a much-needed positive jolt on the EU’s enlargement process. However, despite considerable previous progress, history shows that the Western Balkans’ path towards membership had encountered numerous obstacles, which can easily derail the momentum again, such as democratic decline, slow economic convergence, and alignment with authoritarian regimes. Key areas for improvement, which necessitate international cooperation and good practices sharing, remain building capacity for governance institutions to counter state capture, monitoring and countering malign influence and disinformation, and laying the groundwork for sustainable economic integration through low-carbon innovation and constructive capital integration.
In order to seek ways to reinvigorate the EU enlargement drive, the Center for the Study of Democracy and EURACTIV Bulgaria organized a policy roundtable on 30 March 2023 in Brussels. The event engaged multiple international experts, including Boyko Todorov, Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Democracy, Wolfgang Nozar, Deputy Head of Unit at the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, Clive Rumbold, Senior Expert at the European External Action Service, Goran Georgiev, Analyst at the Center for the Study of Democracy, Antoinette Nikolova, Director of the Balkan Free Media Initiative, and David Sandson, Attaché to the U.S. Mission to NATO, Brussels. The discussion highlighted that a strategic re-engagement would require strong political commitment on the part of the EU and the candidate countries, established synergy between all relevant stakeholders in the region, and an integrated model of support for reforms.