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EU enlargement back on the agenda?

Henrik Enderlein Fellow Besa Shahini talks about her EU to go podcast “Towards Enlargement” on the Western Balkans and the EU parliament election.

With the European Parliament election just around the corner, enlargement is again on the agenda due to security concerns in Europe. Will the results of the election change that? In an interview, Henrik Enderlein Fellow at the Jacques Delors Centre and former Albanian Minister of Education Besa Shahini discusses her EU to go special podcast “Towards Enlargement” on EU accession in the Western Balkans and gives her take on what the results of the upcoming election could mean for EU enlargement policy.

What is your podcast “Towards Enlargement” about?

“Towards Enlargement” tells the story of how essential enlargement is, not only for the Western Balkans but the EU as a whole. The podcast has eight episodes, one for each of the candidate countries in the region. These episodes describe what's happening in the different countries and address themes that link to the larger accession process.

In addition to the country episodes, the podcast also includes episodes that explore the potential cost of enlargement for the EU and prospective economic growth for the region due to enlargement.

Why did you launch this podcast?

In the EU, we have this narrative that the enlargement process has essentially stopped because candidate countries in the Western Balkans have not delivered on reform and are performing poorly economically. While this is true, it is not the full story. I started this podcast to explore what has happened in the EU to contribute to the stalling of the accession process, as well as to show how the Western Balkans stands little chance of speedy progress without the enlargement policy and why enlargement will benefit the EU as well.

Who do you hope to reach with your podcast?

I hope to reach two audiences:

The first is students who are interested in international relations focussing on the EU and who will potentially become decision-makers or policymakers in the various EU institutions. I want these listeners to know more about the Western Balkans and how essential joining the EU is for reforming these countries and improving their future economic, social and political prospects.

The second audience I hope to reach with this podcast is policymakers working on enlargement. Within EU institutions and in the member states, there are voices advocating changes to the traditional accession model, for example, by introducing accession in stages or by creating different forms of association with the EU. I fear that these changes could reduce the power that the process holds for transforming and improving accession countries, and in turn could risk the success of EU enlargement policy in general. I hope that policymakers in the EU consider this aspect of the enlargement story as they engage in debates on the EU’s readiness for further enlargement.

Speaking of EU policymakers, the European Parliament election will soon take place. How could the results of the upcoming European Parliament election impact the debate on enlargement?

EU enlargement has always been associated with the fear of labour migration – a concern that populist politicians in EU member states have exploited for their own political gain. Debates on migration have shaped this election perhaps even more than in the past, and anti-migration voters tend to be more Eurosceptic in general. It is worrying that polls are forecasting that anti-European populists are likely to win in a third of member states. If this happens, it could endanger enlargement policy in general, not just the accession of the Western Balkans.

Listen to Besa Shahini’s EU to go “Towards Enlargement” podcast to find out more about EU accession in the Western Balkans.

Views expressed by the author/interviewee may not necessarily reflect the views and values of the Hertie School.

More about our expert

  • Besa Shahini, Henrik Enderlein Fellow, Jacques Delors Centre