Europeanisation meets democracy from below: The Western Balkans Europeanisation meets democracy on the search for new European and democratic Momentum (WB2EU)

Hungary, an anti-role model for successful EU integration? By Christina Griessler & Fanni Elek, ÖGfE Policy Brief, 14’2021

Already from around 2007 onwards the European Union’s (EU) enlargement process entered a severe crisis and attempts to overcome the deadlock have failed so far. The trust in the EU’s ability to move forward and enable the next enlargement of the countries of the Western Balkans has more or less vanished. Still, there are a number of EU member states actively pursuing the EU accession of the Western Balkans. Hungary is one of those countries. However, Hungary is in conflict with the EU, due to its reluctance to comply with the EU’s values and rules, especially regarding the rule of law. This Policy Brief will look at the issue of Hungary as a role model for the countries of the Western Balkans and how securing good bilateral relations to the Western Balkan countries supports its national interests. The questions are how did Hungary turn from a good pupil to a problem child, how the conflict within the EU shaped its image of a confident critique of the “old” EU and what impact Hungary’s role has on the Western Balkan states.

Policy Recommendations

  1. The EU needs to clearly state that the countries of the Western Balkans should not follow the role model of Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy”, as this can hamper their accession process. Moreover, the Western Balkan states need to openly reject the authoritarian-minded ideas.
  2. Hungary, which several Western Balkan countries perceive as an honest broker, should closely collaborate with EU member states that have strong ties to the region (e.g. Slovenia and Croatia). Furthermore, this close cooperation should also include countries which are sceptical about a possible EU enlargement (e.g. the Netherlands and France) to overcome indifference. Eventually, the collaboration also needs a strong advocate with significant political weight within the European decision-making process (e.g. Germany).
  3. The EU institutions have to stand up and defend their values. If the European Commission cannot keep its role as a guardian of the treaties, it will lose credibility, and it will further fuel resistance within the EU against the accession of the Western Balkans. The EU needs to considerably speed up its „rule of law mechanism“ against Hungary and Poland, or the accession of the Western Balkan countries will recede in the distance.
The Policy Brief is published in the framework of the WB2EU project. The project aims at the establishment of a network of renowned think-tanks, do-tanks, universities, higher education institutes and policy centres from the Western Balkans, neighbouring countries and EU member states that will be most decisive for the enlargement process and Europeanisation of the region in the upcoming years. The WB2EU project is co-funded by the European Commission under its Erasmus+ Jean Monnet programme.

© A flag flying in front of the Hungarian Parliament Building
European Union, 2020 / Photographer: Ferenc Isza
Source EC – Audiovisual Service

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