Despite the promise to bring the Western Balkan countries into the European Union 20 years ago at the Thessaloniki Summit, the countries of the region (except for Croatia) still have not achieved EU membership. While all of the countries in the Western Balkans declared a commitment to become members, and some significant developments in this effort took place, each country has its issue that prolongs the membership efforts. This article will explain these issues – some very current ones, while others are causing the stagnation of the membership process for decades. 


Albania is a Balkan country that has been waiting for its accession to the EU for years. Since the fall of communism in the early 1990s, Albania has strived to embrace a new path of democracy, economic development, and European integration. Joining the European Union has been a central goal for the nation, offering the promise of stability, prosperity, and enhanced cooperation. However, despite progress in various areas, Albania has not yet become an EU member state. This article explores the multifaceted reasons behind Albania’s non-membership status, shedding light on its challenges in pursuing EU integration.

Effective political and institutional reforms are vital for EU membership. Albania has made significant strides in this area, but there are ongoing concerns about the rule of law, government transparency, and political interference. Strengthening democratic institutions and ensuring checks and balances are crucial to gaining the EU’s confidence.

Also, corruption remains a persistent challenge in Albania, hampering economic progress and the country’s EU aspirations. The EU demands robust efforts to combat corruption and organized crime, necessitating comprehensive and sustained action to root out these issues from the nation’s political and economic systems. 

Last but not least, public support for EU membership is crucial for Albania’s integration efforts. Some segments of the population may have reservations about the potential impacts of EU membership on national identity and sovereignty. Building public awareness and addressing concerns through transparent communication is essential to foster broad-based support.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, various issues like low levels of democracy and the rule of law or a need for administration reforms (among many others). However, the situation that could cause long-term stagnation of the EU’s joining process is happening in the country right now, having roots in ethnic division. Current tensions are caused by the decision of the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska assembly to disable the rulings of the Constitutional Court in the territory of Republika Srpska. The newest law passed by the Serbian entity’s assembly represents another blow to the fragile functioning of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a state deeply divided based on ethical and religious merits. According to the fresh bill from Republika Srpska, the rulings of the BiH Constitutional Court will be non-applicable in a Serb-dominated entity. 

The development of the situation is not surprising, and it could be expected, as Dodik has threatened to block the Constitutional Court for more than ten years. Dodik dislikes the current setup of the Constitutional Court when the European Court of Human Rights assigns three out of nine judges. In his mind, the contemporary design is not a part of the original Dayton Peace Agreement. It is used to outvote the three members of the Constitutional Court assigned by Republika Srpska. However, the issue became severe in December 2022, when the Bosnian Serb judge went to retirement, which is obligatory due to reaching the age of 70. Immediately after, Dodik refused to appoint a new judge and also pushed the remaining judge from Republika Srpska to leave his position (which he will only do in 2023). 

Even though the remaining judge stood in his position, as already mentioned, he announced to leave his post in 2023. Thus, Dodik will have the opportunity not to appoint another judge and dysfunction the Constitutional Court even more. What is even more severe, in June 2023, the court decided that decisions could be made with only seven judges, which allows the court to make rulings without two judges from Republika Srpska. This move provoked Dodik to go even further, stating that he would achieve the inability of other state institutions to rule over the territory of Republika Srpska.


For Kosovo, the reality of membership efforts is probably the most bitter one. The major obstacle to its membership in the European Union is the denial of five EU members who do not want to recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state. Slovakia, Cyprus, Spain, Romania and Greece do not seem to change their position, which blocks Kosovo from joining the EU. 

Another essential reason Kosovo is still off the track to become an EU member is unresolved issues with Serbia. Despite some minor developments in this attitude, the latest events have shown that Kosovo’s leadership is unwilling to step back and reach an agreement with Belgrade. Currently, Prishtina’s stance on this issue is regarded as the main obstacle by Brussels, claiming that Kosovo can neither move to the EU nor join the European Union without solving this issue. Although the Brussels Agreement was signed in 2013, which established principles to normalize between Belgrade and Prishtina, and Washington Agreement was added in 2020 (normalization of economic relations between Belgrade and Prishtina), no significant development was achieved. On the contrary, the License plate crisis in 2022 and 2023 North Kosovo unrest devastated even that small development of relations since 2013. Therefore, without a solution to its relations with Serbia, Kosovo cannot join the European Union, as there are currently no exceptions that could circumvent this Brussels’ condition. 


Concerning Montenegro, it is the most likely candidate to join the European Union. However, often changing government coalitions and governmental instability pose an obstacle that could hinder EU membership in this small coastal country.

In 2023, the country’s deep and long-lasting political division was expected to end, and a stable government would be put together. Unfortunately, even today, it looks probable that the Montenegrin political scene will remain divided, and the latest elections did not bring the sovereign winner. As a consequence, a future coalition could be potentially formed. Still, differences among political parties could cause the EU membership process stagnation, considered the most developed in the Western Balkans. 

On the other hand, it is crucial to mention that even before, political divisions ruled the country, and still, Montenegro was able to move ahead towards membership, considered the frontrunner of the process in the region. It is because, notwithstanding the differences in opinions and unstable coalitions, most of the parties from Montenegrin political portfolio seek membership and consider it the main goal, which based on the words of outgoing PM Dritan Abazović, could be achieved by 2027. 

Moreover, unlike other countries in the region, Montenegro has no current political issues with neighbouring countries, and its leaders continually recognize EU membership as the only option for their country. Last but not least, even experts claim that Montenegro has a real chance to complete all EU requirements by 2025, which would make the country ready for EU membership. 

North Macedonia

Another country located in the Western Balkan region is North Macedonia. Since gaining independence in 1991, North Macedonia has been steadfast in its pursuit of closer ties with the European Union (EU). Aspiring to be a member state, the country has undertaken significant reforms and made notable progress toward meeting EU standards and criteria. However, despite these efforts, North Macedonia is not yet a member of the EU. This article delves into the multifaceted reasons behind North Macedonia’s non-membership status, exploring the challenges that have hindered its accession process.

One of the most significant hurdles to North Macedonia’s EU membership has been the longstanding name dispute with Greece. For many years, Greece objected to the use of the name “Macedonia,” fearing territorial claims on its region of the same name. This dispute was resolved in 2019 by signing the Prespa Agreement, leading to the country’s official name change to “North Macedonia.” While this was a positive step, it took considerable time and strained bilateral relations, affecting the EU accession process.

A big issue regarding the accession of North Macedonia to the EU is ethnic tensions. Those, particularly between the Macedonian and Albanian communities, have long been a longstanding issue in North Macedonia. The EU emphasizes the importance of fostering inter-ethnic dialogue, cooperation, and reconciliation. Overcoming these divisions and promoting inclusivity is essential to ensure stability and harmonious coexistence within the country.

Sustainable economic development is also crucial for EU membership. North Macedonia has made efforts to attract foreign investment and stimulate economic growth. However, challenges persist, including high unemployment rates, a reliance on low-skilled labour, and a need for further structural reforms to enhance economic competitiveness.


Progress, challenges, and complexities have marked Serbia’s journey toward European Union membership. The country’s historical, geopolitical, and economic circumstances have contributed to the prolonged accession process. Addressing the legacy of the Yugoslav Wars, resolving the issue of Kosovo’s status, advancing the rule of law, combating corruption and organized crime, undertaking economic reforms, aligning with EU standards, and managing public perceptions are critical components in overcoming these challenges.

One of the most significant hurdles in Serbia’s path to EU membership is the lingering legacy of the Yugoslav Wars that tore apart the region in the 1990s. Serbia’s involvement in the conflicts, especially in Bosnia and Kosovo, has led to strained relations with neighbouring countries and has raised concerns among some EU member states about its commitment to regional stability and reconciliation.

Another big issue – the issue of national identity – plays a role in the EU membership debate within Serbia. Some segments of the population have reservations about potential concessions on matters of sovereignty and identity that EU membership could entail. Building a consensus and addressing concerns about national identity is vital for garnering broad-based public support.

Also, the contentious issue of Kosovo’s status remains a significant obstacle. Despite declaring independence in 2008, Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state, and this stance has hindered progress in its EU accession process. The normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo is an essential condition set by the EU, and reaching a lasting agreement has proven challenging.

Serbia’s integration with the EU would bring economic benefits, reinforce regional stability, and promote cooperation. As Serbia continues its efforts toward EU membership, the collective commitment of the government, civil society, and the population will play a pivotal role in shaping the country’s future within the European family.

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