It could take up to 50 or 60 years for the six Western Balkan countries to catch up with the EU living standards, according to report drafted by the UK Foreign Affairs Committee.
The report, entitled ‘Global Britain and the Western Balkans’ and published on the eve of the last week’s Western Balkans Summit in London, quotes high-ranking European Bank for Reconstruction and Development official Peter Sanfey as saying that the region has made a lot of progress, but “there is still a lot more to be done”.
Dimitar Bechev from the University of North Carolina said that “the region has managed to overcome many of the problems which bred violent conflict in the 1990s”.
But that is where the good news ends, as - according to report - the Western Balkans remains “hampered by a set of interwoven problems, including state capture, chronic economic stagnation, bilateral disputes and ethnic conflicts, which prove that the region’s progress cannot be taken for granted”.
These problems are exacerbated by local elites who have an interest in the status quo. According to Timothy Less from Nova Europa and the University of Cambridge, these elites “are opposed to the kind of liberal reforms which would undermine their control of the national economy”.
The report also reads that the EU accession process has been “a key driver of progress in the Western Balkans”, because the prospect of joining the EU incentivizes the Western Balkans six - Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia - to implement root and branch reforms.
“The further the prospect of joining the EU recedes into the distance, the harder it becomes to entrench reforms, and there is evidence to suggest that this exacerbates the region’s problems”, concludes the report.
The UK Foreign Affairs Committee’s report also quoted a number of experts and analysts, who mentioned ‘backslide into authoritarianism’, ‘a general trend towards de-democratization’, high levels of discrimination and hate crime, lack of access to justice and restrictions on freedom of assembly, as well as fragile media environment, as some of many issues societies in the region are faced with.
“The problems facing the Western Balkans are deeply-rooted and intricately interwoven. Its path to European integration will be long and halting and there is no guarantee of success. It is vital that the UK and its EU and NATO partners maintain their commitment to the region, but they must acknowledge the difficulties and risks involved and recognize that it will likely take a long time to make a substantive difference”, the report concludes.