The unfinished EU: integrating the Western Balkans as a geostrategic imperative

The 20 years of an EU promise

In her 2023 State of the Union Address President of the European Commission von der Leyen affirmed that the future of the Western Balkans lies in the EU. In doing so, she was reiterating an EU promise made at the historic Thessaloniki Summit twenty years ago. At that time, the devastating Yugoslav Wars had just ended. International borders had changed with the independence of Montenegro and later Kosovo. And a wave of EU enlargement was about to take place, with ten Central and Eastern European countries joining in 2004, Bulgaria and Romania in 2007 and Croatia in 2013. The driving force behind this process was a powerful vision to reunite the European continent. But also a strong political will in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern European countries to become members of the European family. For similar reasons, the Western Balkans countries were just as motivated to join the EU.