Head of the Project: Saša BOŽIĆ
Researchers: Dubravka MLINARIĆ, Jelena ZLATKOVIĆ WINTER
The Austrian Institute for International Affairs (OIIP) has initiated the research project South-Eastern Enlargement of the European Union – Between Utopia and “Realpolicy” within the framework of the research program NODE (New Orientations for Democracy in Europe) of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Science and Culture and engaged the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies for the research of the Croatian section of the project. The project focuses on the targeted enlargement of the European Union to countries of South-Eastern Europe and researches the level of statehood required for further European integration, especially in South-Eastern Europe. The project researches in particular how the experts of countries of South-Eastern Europe have evaluated the EU accession process. As the most prospective candidate and the only successor country that emerged from the war as a nation-state with mainly regulated border issues, a lower level of internal conflicts, and more stable institutions, Croatia is especially interesting to researchers because it has shown so far that the strengthening of statehood leads to the candidate status and the integration itself faster than a constant redesigning of institutions, borders, and alliances. The project also investigates changes to be expected in the European Union in the event that South-Eastern Europe becomes integrated into the Union and the influence of individual member countries on the process as a whole. Research methods include the analysis of primary and secondary literature, interviews with experts, and the monitoring of relevant topics and decisions in the European Union and the region.
The research has confirmed the assumptions that a higher level of statehood, defined through the stability of institutions, political values, and borders, has a positive impact on the EU accession process. The European Union, on the one hand, demands from new candidates to meet set criteria including a high level of sovereignty and border control, while on the other hand, it uses the accession prospect as a mechanism to control conflicts that emerged precisely from unsolved sovereignty issues as well as border control and position issues. At the same time, the accession of countries of South-Eastern Europe should, according to existing plans, lead to the stabilization of the state institutions, the legal system, and the civil society as well. The research has proved that a political convergence to the European Union has had a positive impact on the stabilization of state institutions and civil society. However, the dual function of the political process of accession to the EU (individual accession on the one hand and intraregional stabilization on the other hand) has also opened the political field for confrontation between European countries with different interests in the Union and in South-Eastern Europe and has repeatedly enabled the reshaping of the accession process priorities. Such reshaping has been left to the nation-states, members of the European Union, and their short-term agreements, rather than being part of the long-term policy of European supranational institutions.