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Vjosa Musliu

The Berlin Process for the Western Balkans. What is in a name?

(2/2021 - Special issue Western Balkans, European Union and Emerging Powers)
Open Access


This article discusses the potential impact of the Berlin Process in the European Union (EU) integration prospects for the countries of the Western Balkans. The first part of the article discusses whether the Berlin Process can be read as a replacement for the actual EU enlargement to the Western Balkans. The second part of the article discusses how orientalist/balkanist tropes are yet again part of discourses emanating from the EU towards the Western Balkans. The article makes two central arguments. First of all, the idea behind the Berlin Process seems to be a replacement of the EU enlargement to the Western Balkans, even if temporarily. Secondly, the Berlin Process is used, yet again to reinstate orientalist and balkanist tropes for addressing the EU with respect to the Western Balkans. To do this, this article uses document analysis and speech acts of heads of states from the twelve countries of the initiative between 2014-2019.

Index by keyword : Berlin Process, Western Balkans, EU integration


1The Berlin Process was initiated by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2014 and initially includes twelve states: six Western Balkan states which are at different phases in their EU integration process (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia) and six EU member states (Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom (UK) and Slovenia). It is an intergovernmental diplomatic initiative that emerged following the decision of 2014 of the former President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker (2014-2019). The Berlin Process set out several broad and ambitious goals, such as stepping up regional cooperation, resolving bilateral questions for good neighbourly relations and stability, strengthening good governance, carrying out reforms aimed at reinforcing the independence of the judiciary and increasing competitiveness, boosting investments and economic growth in the region as well as transport and connectivity in the energy, transport and digital sectors. The focus was put on economic and regional integration, in the hope that a redefined common purpose would consolidate and increase regional cooperation.

2Most countries in the Western Balkans have bilateral disputes1 all of which hamper proper bilateral relations and even more so any prospects for regional cooperation. Most of these bilateral disputes stem from the recent historical developments that led to the breakup of former Yugoslavia, such as: border demarcation, property rights recognition, minority rights and mobility. The European Union (EU) has engaged intensively with the countries of the Western Balkans and the former Yugoslav countries more generally. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia, the EU has been an essential actor in the post-war reconciliation of the newly independent countries emerging from the federation. Since the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003, the EU has reiterated its support for the countries of the Western Balkans as future members of the Union. In Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo more specifically, the EU has been involved in what Soeren Keil and Zeynep Arkan have called “its future member states” (Keil and Arkan, 2014). To that end, the Berlin Process cannot be decoupled from the EU’s commitment to resolving the ongoing political disputes in the region. At the forefront of this process was the resolution of the long-standing Serbo-Albanian dispute, a further act of normalization of bilateral relations between Serbia and Kosovo, among others. The Albanian Prime Minister, Edi Rama, and the Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić became the main figures of such a resolution. In terms of process, the Berlin Process is marked by yearly summits to underline the commitment to EU enlargement towards the Western Balkans. The first summit took place in Berlin in 2014; followed by the second summit that took place in 2015 in Vienna focusing primarily on infrastructure and connectivity, regional cooperation, youth and the refugee crisis. The following summits have taken place in Paris (2016), Trieste (2017), London (2018), and Poznań (2019). The summits are not only organised with the leaders or public institutions of the respective countries: more than 100 civil society activists, members of think tanks and media from the countries of the Western Balkans join in these activities in each consecutive summit (Kmežić and Bieber, 2016). However, as the annual country reports from the European Commission have highlighted, the region has witnessed a dramatic deterioration in democratic governance and the rule of law, despite the fact that in 2011 rule of law issues were placed at the heart of the accession process. In its 2016 “Communication on the EU enlargement policy”, the European Commission referred to several countries in the region continuing to show “clear symptoms and varying degrees of state capture” (Fouéré and Blockmans, 2017).

3This article will show not only what the Berlin Process is. Rather, what is its impact on the broader set of relations between the EU and the countries of the Western Balkans? To that end, the article makes two central arguments. First of all, the idea behind the Berlin Process seems to be a replacement of the EU enlargement to the Western Balkans, even if temporarily. Second, the Berlin Process is used, yet again, to reinstate orientalist and balkanist tropes from the EU concerning the Western Balkans.

4In what follows below, this article will first analyse how the Berlin Process is, in fact, a signal of the death of the EU enlargement as we know it. It draws on a longitudinal analysis of EU-Western Balkans relations since the breakup of Yugoslavia to showcase the fading and ultimately, the death of enlargement. In the second part, it analyses how the Berlin Process is a platform for the EU to reinstate and continue with the orientalist and balkanist tropes concerning the Western Balkans. To do this, this article deconstructs the discourse emanating from the subsequent summits of the Berlin Process, from the first summit in Berlin in 2014 to the last summit in Poznań held in 2019.

Understanding the Berlin Process. A look at the literature

5The Berlin Process received little attention in the academic literature, mainly because it is a recent and a moving target. Local think-tanks and non-governmental organizations (NGO) in the Western Balkans have been more interested to study the process (see for more the works of Development and Cooperation Institute), focusing on a variety of themes, including its impact in the area of internal security as an essential component for building solid economies in the region (Klemenc and Pulko, 2018), regional cooperation (Cooperation and Development Institute/ShtetiWeb, 2016), enlargement studies as well as geopolitics. There is a group of scholars who insist that the Berlin Process is a result of political changes in the EU and geopolitical changes in the world at large. For Richard Grievson, Julija Gruebler and Mario Holzner, the Berlin Process was a natural outcome to the changing political landscape, namely the migration crisis of 2015, the concern in the EU that some of the intra-regional conflicts in the Western Balkans were heating up, growing influence of other powers in the region (e.g., Russia, Turkey and China) (Grievson et al., 2018). Eamonn Butler zooms in on Brexit to argue that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will lead to pushing back the accession of the Western Balkan countries to the Union. The UK’s withdrawal from the EU has the potential to impact EU enlargement to the Western Balkans in a multitude of ways, writes Butler. He argues that, while EU leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to enlargement, accessions are likely to be pushed back several years and the remaining EU may itself seem a less attractive prospect for the Western Balkan states, although it is still necessary (Butler, 2017). James Ker-Lindsay also argues that the UK has become somewhat irrelevant for the Western Balkans due to Brexit, which was followed by Germany taking the leading role for the EU integration process of the countries in the Western Balkans (Ker-Lindsay, 2017). For Tobias Flessenkemper, the Berlin Process is the latest incarnation of such a member state-driven, intergovernmental approach, whereby Germany, in contrast to the 1990s, has come to openly play a pivotal leadership role (Flessenkemper, 2017). For Theresia Töglhofer and Cornelius Adebahr, the Berlin Process is, on the one hand, an indication of Germany’s active commitment towards the EU accession prospect of the Western Balkans. On the other hand, this commitment goes hand in hand with Germany’s rigid accession conditionality which, the authors add, not only fosters transformation in the states of the Western Balkans, but also counters widespread enlargement skepticism amongst the German public (Töglhofer and Adebahr, 2017).

6Further there are those who cast a rather positive light on the Berlin Process suggesting that it can play a significant role in setting up favorable conditions for resolving and subsequently implementing and sustaining solution of any bilateral issue (Djolai and Nechev, 2018). Matteo Bonomi argues that a major achievement of the Berlin Process has been its contribution to boost the interest of the Western Balkans and EU stakeholders regarding regional cooperation (Bonomi, 2017). For Flessenkemper, its limitations notwithstanding, the Berlin Process has managed to keep the key member states focused on the region and fostered their cooperation against the backdrop of politically weakened European institutions (Flessenkemper, 2017). Ardian Hackaj and Krisela Hackaj argue that the process can lead to resilience and further consolidation of the cooperation among the countries in the Western Balkans (Hackaj and Hackaj, 2019). Andrea Frontini and Davide Denti suggest that the Berlin Process has purposefully intended to provide a renewed impetus to the intergovernmental dimension of EU-Western Balkans relations (Frontini and Denti, 2017). Likewise, for Donika Emini, as well as Marko Kmežić and Florian Bieber, the Berlin Process is thought of as a tool to alleviate the enlargement fatigue in the EU (Emini, 2016; Kmežić and Bieber, 2016), while Sabina Lange argues the process tackles the symptoms of malaise in the region in order to keep up the reforms required for EU membership (Lange, 2016).

7Lastly, there is a group of authors who have shed light on the limits of the Berlin Process in so far as the impact of it for the individual countries of the Western Balkans goes. It has been suggested that unless it is broken down into tangible projects to be tackled, the Berlin Process risks remaining a detached project from the local populations of the countries in the Western Balkans (Frontini and Denti, 2017) or yet another vector of the process of re-nationalization of EU enlargement (Denti, 2015). The re-nationalization would, in turn, strengthen the relations between Western Balkan countries and the biggest EU member states, but such a dynamic would not amount to the enhancement of the relations between the states of the Western Balkans and the EU as a whole. Relatedly, the potential lack of an implementation and/or monitoring strategy to oversee the actualization of the commitments made in the respective summits can pose a serious challenge for the entire process (Emini, 2016). Mario Holzner suggests that since the Berlin Process is an intergovernmental process and not initiated by the EU, it naturally has certain limitations. To that end, he argues that for the most part the Berlin Process is aimed to sensitive the EU member states for the continuation of the enlargement process, rather than being directly aimed at the countries of the Western Balkans (Holzner, 2016). Along similar lines, Töglhofer and Adebahr argue that Germany’s approach to the EU’s enlargement policy is not only about the Western Balkans per se but is contingent on current affairs: be they the influx of refugees from the Middle East passing through this region or the perceived growing influence of Russia far beyond the violent conflicts in Eastern Europe (Töglhofer and Adebahr, 2017). Erwan Fouéré and Steven Blockmans point out that beyond the “annual pageantry”, there has been little follow-up at the intergovernmental level (Fouéré and Blockmans, 2017). According to them, the EU in fact degraded its profile at the highest political as heads of state of 21 governments of other EU countries have not owned up to the Berlin Process. Tena Prelec asks whether the Berlin Process is being used by the EU to pacify the region while not giving it “the real thing”, namely enlargement (Prelec, 2017). Gazmend Qorraj asks a similar question, namely whether the EU will continue the integration process in the Western Balkans or backlash on regional cooperation instruments and initiatives within the framework of the Western Balkans. He argues that countries of the Western Balkans need the EU’s direct support since regional initiatives and regional instruments cannot enforce or monitor reforms in the region (Qorraj, 2018). Others point out that, more than complementing the enlargement, the Berlin Process de facto uses its achievements (Cooperation and Development Institute/ShtetiWeb, 2016). To that end, it is an outcome-oriented process focused on reconciliation, connectivity and regional political cooperation. Its endeavors do not aim specifically the establishment of the rule of law, adoption of the “acquis communautaire”, institution building or market economies in the Western Balkans (Hackaj and Hackaj, 2018).

8This article is on par with the above-mentioned analyses as far as the limitations and the risks of the process are concerned. Differently, from the previous works, the article will showcase that the Berlin Process is a creative adjustment of the EU to still keep the enlargement spirit alive among and within the countries of the Western Balkans, while at the same time officially not pursuing an accession or enlargement agenda as such.

The Berlin Process: the death of enlargement?

9As showcased in the introduction, the EU has been actively involved in the Western Balkans since the 1990s dealing with peace agreements, conflict management and resolution, economic development programs, rule of law and democracy programs, EU enlargement, EU police and military missions, and mediated dialogues between parties among others. The common denominator of all these programs has been “bringing the region closer to the EU” (as is commonly referred to among EU officials) that would eventually make the Western Balkan countries members of the EU. Granted, the relations between the two stretch out well beyond the EU accession process. With a plethora of EU-led programs for the region, why then build another initiative such as the Berlin Process?

10To understand the logic behind the Berlin Process, we need to consider both spectrums: how can we understand the process from the current situation in the Western Balkans on the one hand, and from that of the EU on the other. Countries of the Western Balkans are at different phases in their trajectories of becoming members of the EU. Albania started its negotiations on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) in 2003 and since 2014 it is an official candidate for accession to the EU. Bosnia and Herzegovina remains a potential candidate country for EU membership. The problems with the country’s constitutional reforms and other legal and political conundrums deriving from the Dayton Peace Agreement have impeded the country from submitting a formal application until 2016. Kosovo is also a potential candidate for EU membership. Following the declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008, the EU did not issue a recognition en bloc for Kosovo as five of its member states (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, Spain) do not recognise it as an independent state. The unclear stance did not impede the EU from entering into contractual relations with Kosovo though when both parties signed and ratified the SAA in 2016. Montenegro started its negotiations for EU membership in 2006 following its independence from Serbia in the same year with the official accession negotiations starting in 2012. In the assessment of the accession progress issued by the European Commission in 2016, Montenegro is praised for having the highest level of preparation for membership among the negotiating states. North Macedonia was the first country of the region to become a candidate country in 2005, but remained stuck in this process due to the name dispute with Greece over the country’s former official name “Macedonia”. A resolution was reached between Greece, Macedonia and the EU over the adaptation of the name “North Macedonia” in 2018. Serbia initiated the SAA with the EU in 2007 and has been an official candidate since 2011 and opened its negotiations for accession in 2014. The EU has a visa liberalisation policy with Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina since 2010 and Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia since 2009. The visa regime is still in place for Kosovo due to political problems, initially being the border demarcation with Montenegro, and later the ongoing frictions between the government of Kosovo and the government of Serbia over the decision of the former to issue a 100 % tax on Serbian imports in Kosovo.

11Other than the official enlargement process, the EU and the countries of the Western Balkans have been engaged in several other related programs and initiatives. For instance, the EU has been at the forefront of the idea of having the countries of the region cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Since 2004, the EU has been present in Bosnia and Herzegovina with its “Operation Althea”, officially known as the EU Force Bosnia and Herzegovina (EUFOR), whose purpose is to oversee the military implementation of the Dayton Agreement (Merlingen and Ostraukaite, 2005). Since 2009, the EU has deployed the biggest and most expensive mission of its sort in the history of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), known as European Union Rule of Law in Kosovo (EULEX) (Usanmaz, 2018). EULEX describes its mission statement to “monitor, mentor and advises Kosovo’s justice system”. The mandate of EULEX is, however, far more comprehensive. It includes the works and activities typically carried out by several government ministries, departments and agencies in a particular country (Musliu, 2020). In ten years of its operation, EULEX’s annual budget has been 50 million euros (Haxhiaj, 2018), a budget approximately 45 % higher compared to EU’s Instrument for Pre-accession (IPA) funds for Kosovo (Kursani, 2012). Since 2011, the EU facilitates the Belgrade-Prishtina dialogue in Brussels, the first negotiations between the two parties since the declaration of Kosovo’s independence in 2008. Since then, the negotiations have had seven rounds focusing on three primary areas: regional cooperation, freedom of movement and rule of law. The EU is the biggest donor and investor in the Western Balkans and the biggest trading partner for the countries in the region. Between 2014 and 2020, EU’s investments per country in the region are over 4.1 billion euros in key developmental areas2: democracy and governance; rule of law and fundamental rights, competitiveness and innovation; environment (flood recovery), transport, agriculture and rural development, education, employment and social policies (European Commission, 2018). EU companies are also the biggest investors in the Western Balkans, with over 10 billion euros of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) between 2013 and 2018 alone (European Commission, 2018a). Such a comprehensive involvement and investment notwithstanding, the progress reports issued yearly by the European Commission, have systematically indicated poor standards of rule of law, democratic consolidation, human rights and economic indicators.

12Academics and practitioners alike have showcased how the process of EU enlargement towards the Western Balkans has become multi-layered with several structural-developmental problems. For instance, unlike in previous rounds of enlargement, in the Western Balkans, the EU started the SAA negotiations with chapters 23 and 24 (Pozantov and Milevska, 2014). As these chapters deal with the rule of law and the democratic order, they are considered to be the most important ones and having to tackle them first thus represented an increased difficulty in the process of gaining membership. For Stephan Renner and Florian Trauner, the slowing down of membership with the additional conditions exemplifies a “creeping of membership of South East European countries” (Renner and Trauner, 2009, p. 454). For other scholars of EU enlargement, the extra conditions are the result of the internal political peculiarities of the relevant countries (cooperation with the ICTY, regional cooperation, Kosovo-Serbia bilateral disputes), rather than extra requirements actually specified by the EU (Lavenex, 2004).

13When it comes to the EU, over the past ten years, the Union has been facing several integrationist challenges. The two-speed Europe, the financial crisis, the refugee crisis, Brexit, the rise of right-wing and populist political parties and movements in EU member states, have only naturally decreased the enthusiasm for further EU integration. The closing of Directorate-General (DG) Enlargement and its subtle substitution with DG for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) was yet another sign of not only putting the enlargement on hold but also about creating a new imaginative geography of “neighbours” of the Union. In February 2018, the European Commission published its enlargement plan to cover the six countries of the Western Balkans after 2025 (European Commission, 2018a). While the document confirms the “European path” for the region, at the same time it also says that no enlargement can take place until 2025:

However, our Union must be stronger and more solid, before it can be bigger. This is why, in line with its Roadmap for a More United, Stronger and more Democratic Union, the Commission will throughout this year put forward several initiatives aimed at improving the democratic, institutional and policy framework for the Union of 2025, based on the current Treaties. In particular, these initiatives will include proposals to improve the effectiveness of decision-making within the EU by enhancing qualified majority voting in areas such as foreign policy or internal market matters (European Commission, 2018a, p. 3).

14It is unclear though whether the reason for the reconsideration of the enlargement process is the not as strong EU in its current form as suggested in the quote above, whether it is because the countries of the Western Balkans are not ready (European Commission, 2018a, p. 4), or whether it is a combination of both. The document, however, suggests that the eventual membership “will depend fully on the objective merits and results of each country” (European Commission, 2018a, p. 3). To that end, at the EU spectrum, the Berlin Process, initiated and led by still pro-integrationist forces within the EU looks more like a “stall” for the enlargement until the EU turns into a more favourable position to discuss the future of potential further enlargement. Through the Berlin Process, countries of the Western Balkans are still receiving verbal support to their EU integration, but in the meantime, they are asked to cooperate amongst each other until more favourable conditions in the EU come to the fore. Over the past two decades, the EU has reiterated its support for the countries of the Western Balkans, systematically repeated in EU’s summits. What is more, for the EU senior officials, the EU integration has been presented as a hegemonic project for the region (Bulley, 2009; Musliu, 2019). However, since the EU membership of Slovenia in 2004 and Croatia in 2013, the EU has been working to fulfil these promises. Concretely, in 2009 the EU deployed in Kosovo its largest CSDP mission (EULEX) and EU officials have reiterated EU’s willingness to see Kosovo part of the EU in the future. However, to this day the EU has kept in place its visa regime for Kosovo, thus making it impossible for the later to create a tangible experience with the promised “European future”. Further, upon reaching an agreement with the name deal between Greece and North Macedonia in 2018, EU leaders hailed the 27-year-old name dispute with great enthusiasm. The then head of EU foreign policy, Federica Mogherini, said that the block fully supports the deal and “remains firmly committed to continue to fully support and accompany country towards its common strategic goal of EU integration” (cited in Testorides and Paphitis, 2018, p. 21). Despite promises and enthusiasm from the EU side for North Macedonia to start membership talks in the event of a name deal between the later and Greece, France and the Netherlands unexpectedly blocked the start of EU talks for North Macedonia, seeking more reforms. The same decision followed for Albania, asking for further reforms in key sectors such as the rule of law and corruption. The decision was met with criticism in both countries. Albania’s deputy minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Sokol Dedja declared that it was time for the EU “to stop using the need for preparatory reforms as a way of keeping countries outside of the European Union” (cited in Emmott and Baczynska, 2019, p. 3).

15To conclude this section, on the one hand, we have the change of DG Enlargement to DG NEAR and the halt of the enlargement process for the Western Balkans. On the other hand, we have the reiterated position of the EU that the future of the Western Balkans is in the EU and the creation of yet another program such as the Berlin Process. This way, more than replacing the enlargement with the Berlin Process, the EU seems to be simulating enlargement via the Berlin Process. Unlike with programs of EU enlargement, with the Berlin Process, the EU is not engaged institutionally or procedurally towards bringing the countries of the Western Balkans to the EU. Rather, it allows the EU in Brussels to “outsource” the major part of the “integration” talk to the local authorities in the Western Balkan countries and by extension, the responsibility for the integration. This way, even though the success or the failure for the integration of the Western Balkans in the EU depends on inner developments within the EU and the progress made in each of the respective countries, the responsibility will be placed on the progress countries of the Western Balkans will make. The Berlin Process aims to create a mini-EU like cooperation structures in the Western Balkans, thus replacing the EU enlargement as a process, even if temporarily. More than a process on its own, the Berlin Process seems to unofficially proliferate further standards before considering conditioning the full membership of the Western Balkans. This way, the region is rendered further as a place where the EU has to create and sponsor further initiatives with no real or tangible membership prospects. Through the membership process, the EU creates, maintains and reifies its “others” by keeping them inside the abundantly clear boundaries of the “other”. The conditions on which the EU is willing to accept the countries of the Western Balkans in the EU is if they stop being Balkans and become more European in turn, however elusive and ambiguous that is.

Reinforcing “the Balkans” narratives

16The Berlin Process presented an opportunity to “restart” a new set of relations between the countries of the Western Balkans and the EU: Slovenia and Croatia are already members of the EU; North Macedonia and Greece have already solved the name issue; the EU mediated dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina continues, all the while still suffering from problems with implementation (Visoka and Doyle, 2018; Gashi et al., 2017); Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro are advancing in their talks with the EU, even though to different degrees (Kmežić, 2019). The new context in the region notwithstanding, looking at EU’s discourse produced throughout the sessions of the Berlin Process, one can discern how the EU reverts to orientalist and balkanist tropes and discursive strategy when addressing the countries of the region. Similar to orientalist tropes, balkanist tropes suggest an image of the Balkans is still trapped in deep-seated hatred and inter-ethnic conflicts which make the mere fact of leaders of these countries sitting together at a summit a newsworthy event. The EU has often been criticized for addressing the countries of the Balkans through orientalist tones largely criticized for their colonial frameworks in the work of Edward Said (Said, 1979) and Maria Todorova (Todorova, 2009). Similar discourse has also been evidenced in the speech acts of the former EU High Representative, Federica Mogherini (Ghekiere, 2017). Even though direct balkanist tropes are not as rampant in discourses of the Berlin Process, the overall narrative and tone remain largely tied to it.

17For instance, the keynote speech from the first summit of the Berlin Process that took place in Berlin in 2014 referred to the events that led to the World War I (WWI) and the recent violent past of the countries of the Western Balkans:

A hundred years after the outbreak of the First World War, the heads of government, foreign ministers and economics ministers of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, the FYR of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia, as well as representatives of the European Commission, the future host Austria, and France, met in Berlin on 28 August 2014 for the first Conference on the Western Balkans (European Union, 2014).

18The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 is seen as the symbolic reference for the start of WWI. The fact that heads of states from the countries of the Western Balkans were meeting again, in an occasion of peace, was supposed to signal the progress that the Western Balkans and more generally Europe have made. Even though there has been progress in the region in more recent past – the last two decades for instance – it is interesting how the theme of WWI comes back even after one hundred years.

19In the Summit of Vienna that took place in 2015 reference was made to the turmoiled past that led to the breakup of former Yugoslavia:

The Western Balkans region has come a long way since the violent breakup of former Yugoslavia, notably in the areas of political and economic stability, as well as in regional cooperation. All of the countries in the Western Balkans firmly believe that their future lies in the European Union (European Union, 2015).

20The trope of the “violent past” or the “horrific events” in the former Yugoslavia is an indispensable part of the communication of the EU with the Western Balkans. Irrespective of the content of the communication, the violent past of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia acts as a natural adjacent to each country of the Western Balkans. To that end, in EU’s narrative, the normalcy, the development or simply the state of being in the region do not exist in and of themselves. Rather, they are always accompanied or next to (a reminder) of the violent past. It is unclear though whether such systematic reminder of “violent past” in EU’s discourse serves to remind countries of the Western Balkans of how much progress they have achieved since then or to caution on the potential risk of such a turmoiled past.

21The same trope of the violent past and “healing of old wounds” featured in the final letter of the Paris Summit that took place in 2016:

Today in Paris, a major step was taken to heal the wounds of the past in the region with the signature of the agreement establishing a Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO). Building on the 50-year experience of the Franco-German Youth Office for youth cooperation, the mission of the new office will be to support activities that promote reconciliation of the peoples as well as programmes on remembrance, diversity, intercultural exchange, regional mobility, citizen participation and the promotion of democratic values (European Union, 2016).

22For the past thirty years, the structures of liberal democracy have been involved in the Western Balkans promoting reconciliation, good neighbourly relations and multi-ethnic cohabitation. To that end, it is unclear whether it is the inability of the EU – along with other structures of liberal democracy – “to heal” the wounds of the ethnic conflicts in the Western Balkans, or whether it is the inability of the countries of the region to work towards reconciliation, the support of the EU notwithstanding. The inability of the countries in the region to join the EU seems to further reinforce the orientalist tropes through which the EU sees and addresses the region. Being two anti-words, the Balkans (or Western Balkans) will continue to be outside of the EU as long as it continues to be the Balkans. The strategy for the Western Balkans issued by the European Commission in 2018 on the decision to resume the enlargement talks with the countries of the region in 2025 states:

All the Western Balkan countries must now urgently redouble their efforts, address vital reforms and complete their political, economic and social transformation, bringing all stakeholders on board from across the political spectrum and from civil society. Joining the EU is far more than a technical process. It is a generational choice, based on fundamental values, which each country must embrace more actively, from their foreign and regional policies right down to what children are taught at school (European Commission, 2018a, p. 3).

23In this particular quote, the EU places the responsibility to the institutions and the populations at large in the countries of the region. It even suggests that becoming part of the “fundamental values” of the EU is a choice and one that needs to be made across all levels of society.

24The use of orientalist and/or balkanist tropes from the EU is not new. In fact, such tropes have been quintessential to individual Western European countries since the beginning of the 20th century. For one, the persistence of such tropes utilized from the EU towards the region may reflect the EU’s continued vision of the Western Balkans as a region that is beyond repair, irrespective of European and international donors’ help and support. Further, by reinforcing such tropes, the EU in turn self-legitimizes its presence and interference in the region as well as the creation of new instruments and programs.


25As an intergovernmental diplomatic initiative, the Berlin Process emerged following the decision of the former President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker (2014-2019), to halt the EU integration process until 2020. From the outset, the Berlin Process decided a series of broad and ambitious goals, such as stepping up regional cooperation, resolving bilateral questions for good neighbourly relations and stability, strengthening good governance, carrying out reforms aimed at reinforcing the independence of the judiciary and increase competitiveness. This article problematized the potential impact of the Berlin Process in the EU integration prospects for the countries of the Western Balkans. On the one hand, by giving more incentives for regional cooperation and thus functioning as an EU microcosm, the Berlin Process can contribute to more regional and local ownership of the EU integration. On the other hand, by “outsourcing” the EU integration process to Berlin Process, the EU seems to be withdrawing from the Western Balkans. This article developed an argument to showcase how the very idea of the Berlin Process, adjacent to the change of DG Enlargement with DG NEAR, the amputation of EU enlargement, were signs of the EU structurally rethinking and even withdrawing from further enlargement. To do this, this article relied on document analysis and speech acts of heads of states from the initial twelve countries of the initiative. The article found out that first there is reasonable evidence that the Berlin Process is ultimately replacing EU’s enlargement towards the countries of the Western Balkans until further notice otherwise. More than a process in itself, the Berlin Process is yet another strategy to create and proliferate further conditions, requirements and additional reforms that countries of the region have to tackle before even beginning the official accession talks. This way, countries of the region are further rendered as sites where the EU enacts and performs programs and policies that further legitimize the EU’s intervention in the region and yet, they do not allow for countries of the region to advance in the process of their EU membership. Second and relatedly, the Berlin Process is used as a platform where orientalist and balkanist tropes are reinstated, (re)created and reinforced. The same tropes are in turn used to explain and legitimize the “lack of progress”, the need for “further reforms” for the countries of the region.



27Bulley Dan (2009), Ethics as Foreign Policy. Britain, the EU and the Other, 1st Edition, London: Routledge.

28Keil Soeren and Arkan Zeynep (2016), The EU and Member State Building. European Foreign Policy in the Western Balkans, “Routledge Studies in Intervention and Statebuilding”, London: Routledge.

29Said Edward (1979), Orientalism, United States of America: Random House.

30Todorova Maria (2009), Imagining the Balkans, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

31Chapters in edited books

32Kmežić Marko (2019), “EU Rule of Law Conditionality: Democracy of ‘Stabilitocracy’ Promotion in the Western Balkans?”, in Džankić Jelena, Keil Soeren and Kmežić Marko (eds.), The Europeanisation of the Western Balkans A Failure of EU Conditionality?, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 87-109.

33Musliu Vjosa (2019), “From Kosovo with Hospitality: Rethinking Hospitality Beyond Westphalia”, in Visoka Gëzim and Musliu Vjosa (eds.), Unravelling Liberal Interventionism. Local Critiques of Statebuilding in Kosovo, London: Routledge, pp. 39-53.

34Musliu Vjosa (2020), “EULEX Kosovo: A status-neutral and technical mission?”, in Bigo Didier, Diez Thomas, Fanoulis Evangelos, Rosamond Ben and Stivachtis Yannis A. (eds.), Handbook of Critical European Studies, London: Routledge, pp. 477-487.

35Articles of scientific journals

36Frontini Andrea and Denti Davide (2017), “Italy and EU enlargement to the Western Balkans: the Europeanization of national interests?”, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, 17(4), pp. 571-589.

37Gashi Krenar, Musliu Vjosa and Orbie Jan (2017), “Mediation Through Recontextualization: The European Union and the Dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia”, European Foreign Affairs Review, 22(3), pp. 533-550.

38Ker-Lindsay James (2017), “The United Kingdom and EU enlargement in the Western Balkans: from ardent champion of expansion to Post-Brexit irrelevance”, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, 17(4), pp. 555-569.

39Lavenex Sandra (2004), “EU external governance in ‘wider Europe’”, Journal of European Public Policy, 11(4), pp. 680-700.

40Lavenex Sandra (2008), “A governance perspective on the European Neighborhood Policy: integration beyond conditionality?”, Journal of European Public Policy, 15(6), pp. 938-955.

41Merlingen Michael and Ostraukaite Rosa (2005), “Power/Knowledge in International Peacebuilding: The Case of the EU Police Mission in Bosnia”, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, 30(3), pp. 297-323.

42Qorraj Gazmend (2018), “Towards European Union or Regional Economic Area: Western Balkans at Crossroad”, Naše Gospodarstvo/Our Economy, March, 64(1), pp. 11-17.

43Renner Stephan and Trauner Florian (2009), “Creeping EU Membership in South-east Europe: The Dynamics of EU Rule Transfer to the Western Balkans”, Journal of European Integration, 31(4), pp. 449-465.

44Töglhofer Theresia and Adebahr Cornelius (2017), “Firm supporter and severe critic – Germany’s two-pronged approach to EU enlargement in the Western Balkans”, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, 17(4), pp. 523-539.

45Usanmaz Efe (2018), “Successful Crisis Management? Evaluating the Success of the EU Missions in the Western Balkans”, European Foreign Affairs Review, 23(3), pp. 381-403.

46Visoka Gëzim and Doyle John (2018), “The Promise and Future of Neo‐Functional Peace: A Reply to Bergmann and Niemann”, Journal of Common Market Studies, 56(2), pp. 439-445.

47Policy and think-tank papers

48Bonomi Matteo (2017), The Western Balkans in the European Union: Perspectives of a region in Europe, a contribution to the Trieste Summit on the Western Balkans, Rome: Instituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), pp. 1-13.

49Butler Eamonn (2017), Brexit and the Balkans: Implications for Future EU Enlargement, Glasgow: Enlighten – Research publications by members of the University of Glasgow, pp. 1-7.

50Denti Davide (2015), “Dopo Vienna. A cosa serve il Processo di Berlino?”, East Journal, 8 September, available at: (accessed 25 March 2021).

51Development and Cooperation Institute/ShtetiWeb (2016), The strategic importance of Berlin Process for the Western Balkans: A view from Albania, Tirana: Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Hanns Seidel Foundation and Konrad Adenauer Foundation, pp. 1-6.

52Djolai Marika and Nechev Zoran (2018), Bilateral Disputes Conundrum: Accepting the Past and Finding Solutions for the Western Balkans, Graz: Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group, pp. 1-13.

53Emini Donika (2016), “Berlin Process: Path to Europe or to nowhere”, Pristina: Kosovo Centre for Security Studies, pp. 1-16.

54Flessenkemper Tobias (2017), “The Berlin Process: Resilience in the EU waiting room”, European Institute for Security Studies (ISSUE), Resilience in the Western Balkans, August, Issue 36, pp. 23-30.

55Fouéré Erwan and Blockmans Steven (2017), The ‘Berlin Process’ for the Western Balkans – Is it delivering?, Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Brussels, pp. 1-27.

56Hackaj Ardian and Hackaj Krisela (2018), The Berlin Process 2014-2018, Tirana: Cooperation and Development Institute, pp. 1-56.

57Hackaj Ardian and Hackaj Krisela (2019), Berlin Process: Implementation of Connectivity and Institutional Governance, Tirana: Cooperation and Development Institute, pp. 1-66.

58Grievson Richard, Gruebler Julija and Holzner Mario (2018), Western Balkans EU Accession: Is the 2025 Target Date Realistic?, Policy Notes and Reports 22, The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, pp. 1-24.

59Holzner Mario (2016), Policy Options for Competitiveness and Economic Development in the Western Balkans: the Case for Infrastructure Investment, Vienna: The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, pp. 1-13.

60Klemenc Jelka and Pulko Ivana B. (2018), The Berlin Process as an Actor in Internal Security and Counter-Terrorism: Opportunities and Pitfalls, Skopje: Institute for Democracy “Societas Civilis”, pp. 1-18.

61Kmežić Marko and Bieber Florian (2016), Western Balkans and the EU: Beyond the Autopilot Mode, Vienna: Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group, pp. 1-22.

62Kursani Shpend (2012), “EULEX. What next?”, Kosovo Institute for Policy Research and Development, Prishtina, pp. 1-30.

63Lange Sabina (2016), “The Western Balkans: back in the EU spotlight”, European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), Paris-Brussels, pp. 1-4.

64Official documents

65European Commission (2018a), “A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans”, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic Committee and the Committee of the Regions, Strasbourg.

66European Commission (2018), “European Commission  Strategy for the Western Balkans”, available at: (accessed 1 July 2019).

67European Union (2014), Final Declaration by the Chair of the Conference on the Western Balkans, Brussels: European Union.

68European Union (2016), Final Declaration by the Chair of the Paris Western Balkans Summit, Paris: European Union.

69European Union (2015), Final Declaration by the Chair of the Vienna Western Balkans Summit.

70Press articles

71Emmott Robin and Baczynska Gabriela (2019), “Macedonia on track for EU accession talks but not Albania-diplomats”, Reuters, June 14, available at: (accessed 25 March 2021).

72Ghekiere Anneleen (2017), “The EU Continues the Tradition of Other-izing the Balkans. Kosovo 2.0”, 2 November, available at: (accessed 23 February 2021).

73Haxhiaj Serbeze (2018), “Kosovo Faces Judicial Dilemmas as EU Law Mission Ends”, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), Prishtina, Kosovo.

74Pozantov Maja and Milevska Tanja (2014), “Kosovo’s spectre looms over EU-Serbia talks”, Euractiv, Brussels.

75Prelec Tena (2017), Has the Western Balkans 6 process become a ‘surrogate for the real thing’?, London: LSE European Politics and Policy (EUROPP) Blog.

76Testorides Konstantin and Paphitis Nicholas (2018), “Macedonia approves historical deal with Greece to rename itself North Macedonia”, The Independent, Brussels.


1 For example, post-war reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as in Serbia and in Kosovo, Kosovo’s disputed sovereignty, secessionist claims in Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the name issue between North Macedonia and Greece resolved in 2018.

2 Out of 4.1 billion euros, 1.5 billion are financed in Serbia, 649.4 million in Albania, 608.9 in North Macedonia, 573 in Kosovo, 530 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and 279 in Montenegro.

To cite this article

Vjosa Musliu, «The Berlin Process for the Western Balkans. What is in a name?», The Journal of Cross-Regional Dialogues/La Revue de dialogues inter-régionaux [En ligne], 2/2021 - Special issue Western Balkans, European Union and Emerging Powers, URL :

About: Vjosa Musliu

Dr. Vjosa Musliu is Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). She is co-editor of the Routledge Series of Intervention and Statebuilding Studies. Her research focuses on EU’s relations with its ‘others’, primarily focusing on the Western Balkans and Ukraine. Her recent book called “Europeanization and Statebuilding as Everyday Practices. Performing Europe in the Western Balkans” is out in 2021 with Routledge Series of Intervention and Statebuilding.