Western Balkans on their way to European integration – European Commission reports 2023

Western Balkans on their way to European integration – European Commission reports 2023

On November 8, the European Commission published reports for 2023 for 10 candidate and potential candidate countries, including six Western Balkan (WB) nations. We offer a brief analysis of the reports for each of the six countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro.

But first, two remarks should be noted.

First. It will be extremely difficult for WB countries to fulfill all the conditions toward European integration, and the real achievement of the accession criteria by 2030 may become an insurmountable challenge. Therefore, the decision to join the European Union will most likely be more political than technical.

Second. The terms “overall,” “moderate,” “some progress,” and “mostly compliant” are prevalent in the reports. It would not be a mistake to say that such blurred estimates disguise the actual concern and critical attitude on the part of Brussels towards real assessment of the work done by the governments so far.

We briefly present only some of the key findings of the reports for each country.


Achievements: The country shows moderate progress and steady but slow movement towards the goal of EU membership. It steadily supports the common foreign and security policy of the European Union (CFSP) and joined the anti-Russian sanctions, consistently reforms its legislation in accordance with the Aquis communiciare and the judicial system. The report states that migration management is largely coordinated with the EU. And in the field of transition to a market economy, an average and good level of preparation has been achieved and some progress has been made in the implementation of most of the recommendations of the European Union on the issue.

Issues and challenges: The report notes some slowdown in the negotiation process. The European Union is concerned about the insufficient anti-corruption efforts, the preservation of restrictions on freedom of speech and the working conditions of civil society, and the use of administrative resources during elections. Despite modest progress, financial controls and the fight against organized crime need to be improved, as the country remains an important link on the drug route to Europe. It is urgent to ensure fundamental human rights and national minorities, in particular, Greek. Ensuring the rule of law, the report notes, should become one of the important priorities of the European integration process.

The research group “European Stability Initiative” (ESI) estimated Albania’s level of readiness for EU membership at 1.6 points, on a scale from 0 to 4. Albanian analysts see the acquisition of EU membership by 2030 as a difficult challenge that requires enormous efforts of the entire society and financial assistance. Prime Minister Edi Rama agrees with the conclusion.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Achievements: In general, there are not many achievements to note. The state, like Ukraine, received the status of a candidate country for membership in the European Union just this year. It was possible to achieve some progress in terms of agreement with the CFSP, which the President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, is trying to prevent by imposing on BiH a neutral status. The report notes, among other things, that for the first time in recent years, it was possible to quickly form a functioning government and achieve some progress in reforming public administration. A number of draft laws have been approved, which is a mandatory condition for opening negotiations on joining the European Union.

Issues and challenges: Although BiH received the status of a candidate country, it is technically not ready for the launch of accession talks. There are too many problems facing the government and politicians, and the report points to most of them. In particular, there is an urgent need to reform the Constitution and the electoral law, to achieve reconciliation, and to approach the EU standards for ensuring human rights, freedom of expression, and freedom of mass media. The report points to the lack of results in the fight against corruption and organized crime. Systemic deficiencies in the cooperation of law enforcement and special services pose a threat to the security of the state. The report states that the transition to a market economy has begun in BiH, but the authorities have not done enough to improve the quality of life in the country. Poor functioning of the judicial system is noted, which makes it impossible to ensure the rule of law. The separatist and authoritarian measures of Republika Srpska do not correspond to the path toward the EU and slow down the positive dynamics of European integration achieved in previous years.

BiH politicians saw only the open door to the EU, but not the steps to be taken. Therefore, the main criterion for the start of negotiations on joining the EU remains, as before, the implementation of BiH’s 14 priorities that were set before the country in May 2019, without which BiH’s membership in the European Union will remain only a project.

Kosovo only submitted an official application for EU membership in December 2022, and there are no ESI assessments yet in place.

Achievements: In a short period of time, the country has made limited progress in almost all clusters of the European integration process, while it is the only country in the region that is not a candidate country.

The greatest success, the report notes, was achieved in the reform of the electoral process, ensuring basic human rights, and managing migration. Kosovo is trying to fulfill all CFSP requirements, normalizing relations with neighboring countries (with the exception of Serbia) and maintaining Russia sanctions. A legislative framework has been created for the effective fight against corruption and organized crime (although their implementation is recognized as insufficient). In the context of economic criteria, Kosovo has made some progress and is between an early stage and a mild level of preparation for the development of a market economy. Certain progress has been achieved in the field of financial management, energy, agriculture, and an increase in the number of officially employed citizens.

Issues and challenges: The main problem on the way to European integration is the unsettled relations between Belgrade and Pristina, the lack of progress in the implementation of the agreements reached, which makes it impossible to start the introductory negotiations. The report points to a gap between the formation of the legislative framework for combating corruption and crime and its limited practical implementation. State and local administration, as well as the judicial system needs reforming. The next step is to improve administrative capacity and coordination for effective implementation of the Aquis communiciare.

North Macedonia

Achievements: The report welcomes North Macedonia’s commitment to reforming the country. Some progress has been achieved in the field of justice, security, including the fight against organized crime and terrorism, and migration management. As for political criteria, North Macedonia continues its efforts to strengthen democracy, the legal framework remains favorable for holding democratic elections. The Aquis communiciare process is progressing well, and the authorities are showing determination to bring it to a speedy conclusion. The country is fully compliant with CFSP norms. The legal framework for the protection of fundamental rights is partially aligned with EU standards and norms, and a favorable environment for the activities of civil society organizations has been created. North Macedonia remains moderately ready for public administration reform. As for economic criteria, it has made some progress and shows a good level of preparation for the development of a functioning market economy.

Issues and challenges: The lack of progress in reforming the judicial system is a cause for concern. There was no progress in preventing and fighting corruption, the report states. North Macedonia is between mild and moderate levels of preparation in the field of freedom of expression, and progress is limited, as in reforming public administration.

The authorities in Skopje, the European Commission notes, demonstrate a high level of commitment to European integration, but reforms need to be accelerated. According to the ESI methodology, North Macedonia received 2 points.


Achievements: In the context of political criteria, it is noted that the Assembly formed in August 2022 included opposition parties that even boycotted the 2020 elections. However, political polarization continues to deepen, especially after the tragic shootings of schoolchildren and passers-by in May. The report supports the reform of the judiciary, which strengthens its independence. Limited progress has been made in the field of public administration reform, thanks to the development of e-services, e-government policy, and the initiation of training courses for civil servants. Limited progress has been achieved in the fight against corruption and organized crime, ensuring freedom of speech and expression. Regarding the economic criteria, Serbia shows a good level of preparation and has made some progress in the development of a market economy.

Issues and challenges: For many years, Serbia has been a leader in European integration in the region, and in 2014 it opened accession negotiations and fulfilled two negotiating clusters. However, eight years later, the process has slowed down significantly. The biggest problems remain the reluctance to introduce sanctions against Russia, the unsettled relations between Belgrade and Pristina, and flirting with China. The report points to the need to improve Serbia’s compliance with CFSP requirements and demonstrate serious commitment to normalizing relations with Kosovo. Further efforts are needed to ensure systemic and genuine cooperation between government and civil society. Cases of threats, intimidation, enmity, and violence against journalists remain a serious challenge. There is an urgent need to complete the WTO accession process.

The country’s leadership trying to balance between the West and the East shows its reluctance to fulfill the conditions necessary for the acquisition of EU membership. Maintaining such a controversial position calls into question Serbia’s ability to return to dynamic work in the context of European integration. The ESI assessed Serbia’s readiness for European integration at 2 points.


Achievements: According to political criteria, the reporting period was marked by confrontation, the result of which was the actual suspension of the path of European integration and the blocking of the political system.

Elections at all levels (local, parliamentary, and presidential) that took place during the reporting period were assessed as peaceful and competitive, despite some procedural flaws. In the field of ensuring fundamental rights, the legislative and institutional framework has basically been created. The role of civil society is recognized and supported by the authorities. However, the legal and institutional framework regulating cooperation requires further development. In the context of the fulfillment of economic criteria, Montenegro has made limited progress and is moderately prepared for the development of a functioning market economy, which ensured high rates of economic growth in the reporting period. The report notes progress on statistical methodology and data transmission to Eurostat and the creation of a strategic framework for financial control. Limited progress has been achieved in the areas of public administration reform and ensuring freedom of speech. The country complies with CFSP principles, and relations with neighboring countries are successfully developing.

Issues and challenges: The most difficult challenges remain the rule of law and judiciary reform, on which, according to the Commission, no progress has been made. Strengthening the administrative capacity to implement the Aquis communiciare remains an important challenge for Montenegro, including the urgent need to re-modernize the functional negotiating structure. The most vulnerable strata of society (Roma, Ashkenazi, and Egyptians, as well as persons with disabilities and LGBT) continued to be discriminated against. An effective fight against corruption is required.

The main challenge for Montenegro is regaining positive dynamics of reforming the country and leading positions in the region in the context of European integration. Montenegro received 2.1 points from the ESI.

General conclusions

1. The Western Balkan states are ranked in regard to heir European integration achievements as follows: Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Albania.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has not yet started the negotiation process, and Kosovo has not yet received the status of a candidate country, but has already launched the reform process.

2. Achievements seen in most countries of the region include adherence to the principles of common foreign and security policy; transition to a market economy; management of migration processes; implementation of Aquis communiciare; and increasing the role of civil society.

3. The following issues remain the most painful for the countries across the region: insufficient fight against corruption and organized crime; extremely slow reform of the judiciary; failure to ensure the rule of law; state control over mass media and restrictions on journalists’ freedoms; and discrimination on national and religious grounds.