How Close Are Western Balkan States to Joining the EU?

French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel chair a meeting with Balkan leaders in Berlin, April 29
French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel chair a meeting with Balkan leaders in Berlin, April 29 (Elysée/Soazig de la Moissonniere)

Leaders of the six Western Balkan countries that remain outside the EU are meeting in Poland this week to discuss their possible accession to the bloc. Four — Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — are candidates to become member states.

Last year, a similar summit was held where the existing member states expressed their concerns about corruption, weak governance and unfree markets in the region. What has changed since then? Read more

Why Montenegro is Joining NATO: Explainer

Prime Minister Milo Ðukanović of Montenegro attends a North Atlantic Council meeting in Brussels, May 19
Prime Minister Milo Ðukanović of Montenegro attends a North Atlantic Council meeting in Brussels, May 19 (NATO)

Montenegro signed an accession protocol with NATO this week. 28 foreign ministers from the alliance’s existing member states signed the treaty earlier this month to clear the way for the Balkan state’s entry.

Expanding the alliance at a time when tensions with Russia are high due to the Atlanticist ambitions of another country in Eastern Europe — Ukraine — might strike some as unwise.

Montenegro, with its population of 600,000, also seems to offer NATO little. It has just 2,000 soldiers along with two frigates and four light ground-attack aircraft inherited from the former Yugoslavia.

So why is Montenegro joining NATO? Let us explain. Read more

NATO to Invite Montenegro, Russia Dismayed

Prime Minister Milo Đukanović of Montenegro addresses a news conference in Brussels with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of NATO, April 15
Prime Minister Milo Đukanović of Montenegro addresses a news conference in Brussels with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of NATO, April 15 (NATO)

NATO will formally invite Montenegro to join the military alliance, diplomats told reporters in Brussels where foreign ministers have gathered for a two-day summit.

It would be the Western alliance’s first expansion since 2009 when Albania and Croatia joined.

NATO’s Cold War rival Russia has said it would regard Montenegro’s accession as a provocation.

But the United States expressed support. “We believe Montenegro’s membership in NATO will contribute to Balkan and European security,” a State Department spokeswoman said in Washington DC.

If things go according to plan, Montenegro would join at a summit in Warsaw next year. Read more

Battles and Breaks

Russian president Vladimir Putin gives a speech in Belgrade, Serbia marking the seventieth anniversary of the city's liberation in World War II, October 16, 2014
Russian president Vladimir Putin gives a speech in Belgrade, Serbia marking the seventieth anniversary of the city’s liberation in World War II, October 16, 2014 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

While the world was looking at the Russian military campaign in Syria, Russia may have scored a victory in Europe: the government of Valeriu Streleț in Moldova was toppled by a vote of no confidence initiated by pro-Russian parties in the Chișinău parliament. Meanwhile, opposition protesters clashed with police in Montenegro’s capital and the Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, visited Moscow. It seemed as if Russia had been on a winning streak. But in reality, Vladimir Putin has too many battles to fight and his own strategy — if there is one — put him under pressure. In fact, Russia is winning only where it does not have to have a strategy. Read more

Montenegro Reelects Pro-European Incumbent President

President Filip Vujanović of Montenegro in Berlin, Germany, December 15, 2011
President Filip Vujanović of Montenegro in Berlin, Germany, December 15, 2011 (AFP/Getty Images/John MacDougall)

Montenegro reelected incumbent president Filip Vujanović last week by less than 8,000 votes, the Balkan nation’s electoral committee announced on Monday. Both the ruling socialist party’s candidate and his conservative challenger Miodrag Lekić had claimed victory.

Vujanović has held the presidency since Montenegro seceded from Serbia in 2006. The post is largely ceremonial. Real power is held by the prime minister, Milo Đukanović, also a Social Democrat.

Whereas Lekić campaigned against corruption and the political status quo, accusing the ruling party of monopolizing power and comparing his opponent’s premature victory claim to a “coup d’état,” the incumbent promised a “European” Montenegro by intensifying negotiations for accession to the European Union which began last year. Montenegro is considered next in line to join the bloc.

Of the former Yugoslavian states, only Slovenia is currently in the European Union. Croatia will join in July.

According to Vujanović, European Union membership is a preconditions for improved living conditions in Montenegro. The country’s industry has been in decline since the breakup of Yugoslavia and it is currently in transition to a services-based economy. Market reforms and privatizations enacted since the beginning of the century have improved Montenegrin competitiveness. Inflation has dropped from an historic high of 26.5 percent in 2001 to 3.3 percent at present. Unemployment has decreased from a high of 31 percent in 2002 to under 14 percent in January of this year. It has no currency of its own and unilaterally adopted the euro.

Allegations of leading politicians’ ties with organized crime persist, however. The prime minister was investigated by Italian police for his suspected involvement in the smuggling of cigarettes. Those charges were dropped in 2009.

Montenegro to Join Russian South Stream Project

An agreement has been made between Russia and Montenegro that will initiate a study to deteremine the feasibility of the South Stream gas pipeline supplying the latter with Russian natural gas by a pipeline that will cross under the Black Sea. With Podgorica first expressing interest in joining the project toward the end of 2011, this deal means that Montenegro joins Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia in having signed agreements with Russia for the construction of South Stream. Read more