The European Commission, transnational Advocacy and civil society in the Western Balkans
O'Brennan, John (2012) The European Commission, transnational Advocacy and civil society in the Western Balkans. In: The European Commission, transnational Advocacy and civil society in the Western Balkans. Routledge, London, pp. 1-21.
The European Union’s enlargement policy is universally recognized as contributing decisively to the transformation of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in the two decades following the end of Communism. With the historic enlargements of 2004 and 2007 the EU extended its borders to the east and to the south east. One important geopolitical consequence of the cumulative expansion process is that the EU is now a direct neighbour of all of the states of the Western Balkans. Utilizing the different templates employed in the design of the successful eastern enlargement policy, the EU is now engaged in a similar process of negotiations with the Western Balkan states which is designed to lead to membership and full incorporation in the institutional and policy regimes of the European Union. The tragic context in which the EU’s relations with the Western Balkans developed along a separate and very different trajectory to Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) after 1989 hardly needs to be pointed out. As CEE drew closer to the EU, the Western Balkans region was inflamed by a series of ethno-nationalist and inter-communal conflicts that splintered the old federal state of Yugoslavia and left more than two hundred thousand people dead. In the aftermath of the Dayton Agreement in 1995, EU engagement with the region, if painfully fitful and uneven from the perspective of the Western Balkans, was fashioned through a familiar mix of political, economic and institutional instruments. Gradually the EU has become the most important point of reference for the countries of the region as they recover from the destructive conflicts of the 1990s and seek to integrate into the successful structures of the European integration process. Just as the countries of Central and Eastern Europe sought to ‘return to Europe’ in the 1990s, the EU’s gravitational pull has been the most important factor in the reconstitution of economic, political and civic life in the Western Balkans region over the past decade. The transformative potential offered by an ‘accession perspective’ is by now well known and documented within the vast corpus of writing on European integration studies (Dimitrova, 2003; O’Brennan, 2006). In the aftermath of the 1989 revolutions in CEE, civil society played an important, if often neglected role, in providing an early legitimising rationale for the EU’s eastern enlargement process (Vachudova 200x). Similarly, across the Western Balkans civil society has sought a place for itself within the accession (and pre-accession) framework. This chapter examines the relationship between the European Commission (the EU’s principal actor within the enlargement process) and civil society in the Western Balkans region. It does so with the aim of understanding how the Commission has sought to engage with civil society, and what, if any, role civil society has played within the unfolding SAP and enlargement process. The Commission’s engagement with civil society derives from an understanding that the enlargement process, developed over decades as an elite-led process, derives at least some measure of legitimacy from the input of non state actors and groups which are closer to the citizens of prospective member states. Civil society support has been part of the EU accession framework since the mid 1990s and has developed in quite specific ways as a result of different but quite purposeful types of engagement on the part of both EU and external actors. The Commission’s approach to enlargement and SAP is highlighted as the most important element of the EU’s ‘Europeanization’ strategy for enlargement candidate states which has seen an effort to ‘modernize’, ‘democratize’, ‘pluralize’ and transform the most fragile part of Europe and connect it progressively to the mainstream landscape of EU politics. The chapter argues, however, that the Commission’s approach to the Western Balkans, consistent with that employed during eastern enlargement and the ‘output’ legitimacy model of EU governance, has been a top-down one, with a preference for engagement with state actors and hierarchical rather than horizontal modes of communication and decision-making. Although civil society has featured strongly in Commission rhetoric about the ‘transformative potential’ of an EU-oriented Western Balkans, EU policy has in fact helped to neutralize any meaningful contribution by civil society actors and community sector as a substantive partner in governance. And although the Commission has at least broadened out the circle of participation in enlargement/SAP to include civil society as a stakeholder, the Commission’s engagement with the Western Balkans has been accession driven rather than community-centred, meaning that civil society has continued to play a subordinate part in the transforming landscape within the region.
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