Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought a new sense of urgency to the question of the Western Balkans’ Euro-Atlantic future. The Western Balkans is facing an uphill struggle in its aspirations to join the European Union. The EU, for its part, is attempting to maintain a hard line on rule of law and democracy standards while keeping the prospect of accession credible. High levels of administrative corruption in the region are compounded by the inability of the judiciary to effectively enforce anticorruption laws.
Labour productivity in the region is low; there is high monopolisation in a number of sectors, regulations are burdensome for business, and taxation policy is erratic. Meanwhile, the deterioration of the media landscape has led to widespread media capture. In turn, this has allowed a proliferation of disinformation and pro-Russian propaganda across the region, spread by both state-owned and private media channels.
The following policy brief presents a concise picture of the long-term socio-economic and democratic challenges that the Western Balkan countries face in a situation of global power competition, malign influence form authoritarian regimes, corruption and state capture, energy poverty and lack of efficient decarbonization policies and investments, brain-drain and aging population. It also provides an initial list of measures needed to counter these barriers to the region’s development, which could be implemented with the support of the EU and international community, policy-makers and donors.