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The European Union promised to open its doors to the Western Balkans 15 years ago and recently recommitted, at a meeting in Sofia, to making this happen, as part of what European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker calls a “step-by-step” approach. Although the region now benefits from EU pre-accession funds and several programmes, including new ‘flagship initiatives’, no country in the region expects to become an EU member before 2025. The Western Balkan region is still too fragile and still struggling with reconciliation three decades after the civil war. It also faces new challenges including rising populism, resurgent nationalism, and a democracy deficit.
New political momentum is building for stronger ties between the EU and Western Balkans, but the region still has a long way to go before it can join the EU. This was the conclusion of the Friends of Europe’s 2018 Balkan European Policy Summit, held in Brussels on 4 December. The event featured a range of different state and nonstate actors, with a stimulating debate on the region’s opportunities and challenges.