The European Union as a Normative Power and the Western Balkans

Dr. Dilek Yigit*

The Western Balkan countries have gone through political and economic reform process in which the European Union (EU) plays a major role. The effectiveness of the EU’s role in the region has been increased through the prospect of EU membership, since the clear EU perspective not only enhances the weight of the EU in tackling political and economic challenges in the region but also provides encouragement for political and economic reform in the Western Balkan countries.

Croatia applied for EU membership on 21 February 2003, its status as a candidate country was confirmed by the European Council in June 2004. The accession negotiations between the EU and Croatia started in October 2005, and as of 20 April 2010 the negotiations have been opened provisionally on 30 out of 35 chapters and provisionally closed on 18 chapters. The Council is supposed to set up the ad-hoc technical working group for the Accession Treaty with Croatia, and Croatia’s accession negotiations with the EU may be concluded within a few years. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia applied for EU membership on 22 March 2004, the Council invited the Commission to submit its opinion on the application on 17 May 2004, and the European Council granted candidate status on 16 December 2005. Montenegro applied for EU membership on 15 December 2008 and the Council requested the Commission to prepare an opinion on the application on 23 April 2009. Albania applied for EU membership in April 2009, Serbia submitted its application for EU membership in December 2009. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU perspective was confirmed in Thessaloniki European Council in June 2003, when Bosnia and Herzegovina became a potential candidate country for EU accession. Among the Western Balkan countries, as the Council of the European Union points out “Kosovo constitutes a sui generis case.” United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 established the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in June 1999, and the status negotiations were started under the auspices of the UN Special Envoy in February 2006. The EU supports Kosovo’s economic and political development through underlining that Kosovo has a European perspective.

These developments in the relations between the EU and the Western Balkan countries address the fact that their future lies in the EU. In the light of this fact, the question of how the European Union has succeeded in increasing its weight in tackling political and economic challenges in the region requires a satisfactory answer.

The answer to this question should build on the conception of the EU as a civilian power suggested by Duchene in the early 1970s and on six factors shaping norm diffusion in international relations suggested by Manners. After Duchene introduced the conception of the European Union as a “civilian power”, much attention was paid to the question of why the EU is a civilian/normative power rather than whether or not it is a civilian/ normative power, for it is indeed impossible to conceive the EU’s international role without referring to its economic and political means. Although the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the European Security and Defence Policy are regarded by some scholars as the militarisation of the EU risking its normative power, the concept of normative power is still the main starting point in analysis of the EU’s foreign policy, and, as Sjursen points out “the conception of the EU as a normative/civilizing power has provided a fruitful avenue for research…”

If the EU is conceptualised as a normative power, the relationship between the EU and the Western Balkan countries should be an example of demonstrating the way in which the EU as a normative power diffuse its norms through the factors suggested by Manners.

In a general sense, a normative/ civilian power can be defined as a power promoting its norms through using civilian instruments. At this point, the question of how the EU promote or diffuse its norms should be answered. To answer this question, what is needed is to understand six factors from which the EU’s normative power stems – “overt diffusion”, “ informational diffusion”, “contagion”, “transference”, “procedural diffusion” and “the cultural filter.” Manners states that “What has been significant in these norm diffusion factors was the relative absence of physical force in the imposition of norms .”

Manners defines “overt diffusion” as “ a result of the presence of the EU in third countries and international organizations ”. The physical presence of the EU, as the delegations of the Commission and the member states’ embassies, contributes to the diffusion of EU norms. The example of overt diffusion is seen in the EU’s relations with the Western Balkan countries. The EU has the EC Delegations in Zagreb, Tiran, Sarajevo, Podgorica, Belgrade, Skopje and the Liaison Office in Kosovo. The EC Delegations in the Western Balkan countries have focused on the political, economic and trade relations and monitoring the Western Balkan countries’ progress towards EU membership. And, the EU has sent EU Special Representative (EUSR) to Bosnia and Herzegovina so as to monitor Bosnia and Herzegovina’s transition to peaceful and viable democracy.

…“the conception of the EU as a normative/ civilizing power has provided a fruitful avenue for research…

Manners define “informational diffusion” as “the result of the range of strategic communications, such as new policy initiative by the EU, and declaratory communications, such as initiatives from the presidency of the EU or the president of the Commission ”. In this context, the Progress Reports and Enlargement Strategies which assessing the progress made by the Western Balkan countries as candidates, and the Presidency Conclusions including statements on the region, can be regarded as the examples of informational diffusion in the region. For example, in the Presidency Conclusions December 2006, it is stated that the future of the West Balkans lies in the European Union. As regards new policy initiatives, achieving visa-free travel can be regarded as an example of new initiatives launched by the EU. In 2008 the Commission presented a road map for visa liberalisation with Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In July 2009, a visa-free regime was proposed by the Commission for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. In November 2009 the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia were granted visa free travel to the Schengen area as of 19 December 2009 by the decision of the Council.

Another factor shaping norm diffusion is “contagion”, which refers that the EU has become an example of regional integration through “exporting its experiment in regional integration ” This factor can not be easily applicable to the Western Balkans, since the Western Balkan countries have given main priority to EU accession rather than regional cooperation initiatives. There are three main regional initiatives in the region; Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), and the Regional School for Public Administration (ReSPA). The parties of CEFTA are Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Moldova, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, and the aim of this agreement is to establish a free trade zone in the region. The EU regards CEFTA as a process complementing the Stabilisation and Association Process. The RCC launched in February 2008 aims to maintain close relations among countries in the region especially in six areas; economic and social development, energy and infrastructure, justice and home affairs, security cooperation, building human capital, and parliamentary cooperation. ReSPA aims to strengthen regional cooperation in the field of public administration and help the participating countries to meet membership criteria. The EU supports the regional cooperation in the region through providing technical and financial assistance; nonetheless progress in regional cooperation is not satisfactory. The European Commission indicated in 2009 that  “Disagreements relating to the Participation of Kosovo in regional meetings, initiatives and agreements are becoming an obstacle to regional cooperation. The normal functioning of important structures such as the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), or the Regional School for Public Administration (ReSPA) could be jeopardised, if present practices do not change.” 

Western Balkans

As regards “transference”, Manners defines it as “a diffusion takes place when the EU exchange goods, trade, aid or technical assistance with third parties through largely substantive or financial means .” Examples of transference diffusion also can be seen in the EU’s relations with the Western Balkan countries. The EU signed Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAA) with Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia in the last decade, these agreements are parts of Stabilisation and Association Process, which aims to establish contractual relationship between the EU and the Western Balkan countries, increase trade between partners, and ensure peace and stability in the region. As a result of ratification of SAAs or interim Agreements on trade and trade -related mat- ters, the EU countries have become main trading partners of the Western Balkan countries. In 2000, The EU created the “exceptional unlimited duty-free access to the EU market” for certain goods originating in the region. In 2008, EU’s good exports to the Balkans were increased to 32,5 billion Euro and good imports from the region amounted to 13,9 billion Euro. Since the current preferential regime is due expire in the end of 2010, on 22 February 2010 the Commission proposed to prolong the preferential regime until 31 December 2015. The Western Bal- kan countries have been receiving EU financial aid under the instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) since 2007. The Commission pointed out that “IPA streamlines all pre- accession assistance within a single framework. It places more focus on ownership of implementation by the beneficiary countries, on support for cross -border cooperation, and on “learning by doing.”

It  prepares  candidate countries to implement the regional, social, rural development and cohesion funds upon accession.” Under the current (2007 -2013) financial framework, the total pre-accession funding  is  11.5 billion Euro. In 2008 146 million Euro for Croatia, million Euro for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 7 million Euro for Albania, 74.8 million Euro for Bosnia – Herzegovina, 184.7 million Euro for Kosovo were allocated, in 2009 33.3 million Euro for Montenegro and 194.8 million Euro for Serbia were allocated. The European Union is the largest donor to the region.

The fifth and sixth factors from which European normative power stems are “the cultural filter” and “procedural diffusion.” Manners points out that “ Procedural diffusion involves the institutionalisation of relationship between the EU and a third party, such as inter-regional cooperation agreement, membership of an international organization or enlargement of the EU itself .” Moreover, “The cultural filter is based on the interplay be- tween the construction of knowledge and the creation of social and political identity by the subjects of diffusion.” As it is seen, Manners states that the EU’s enlargement policy is an example of procedural diffusion, but the EU’s enlargement is also an example of the cultural filter, for the EU promotes its democratic norms through its enlargement policy. In the article 49 of the Treaty on the European Union, it is stated that “ any European state which respects the principles of liberty, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law may apply to join the Union.” At the Copenhagen summit in 1993, the basic conditions for membership were laid down. These criteria are;

“any European state which respects the principles of liberty, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law may apply to join the Union.”

• Stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities,
• A functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union
• The ability to take on the obligations of membership, including support fort he aims of the Union. They must have a public administration capable of applying and managing EU laws in practice.

The Western Balkan countries as candidates for EU membership have to meet this set of membership criteria to accede the Union. To what extent the candidates meet the membership criteria is assessed in the Progress Reports published by the Commission each autumn. If the candidate country fails to meet the membership criteria, the accession process is halted or slow down. As the Commission acknowledges in its Communication in 2009 that “Progress with reforms in the enlargement countries has allowed them to move through successive stages in the accession process .” That is why, the EU’s enlargement policy leads the diffusion of political and economic norms of the Union in the Western Balkans through enabling not only the Union to induce reforms in these countries, but also the Western Balkan countries’ governments to provide justification for political and economic reform.

Building on the concept of the normative power and the factors shaping EU norm diffusion, we see that the EU has been increasing its weight in the Western Balkans as a normative actor through civilian instruments. The major policy instrument of the EU to promote EU norms effectively in the Western Balkans is its enlargement policy, for what enables the Western Balkan countries to be committed to the economic and political reform is the prospect of EU membership.

* Dilek Yigit is a Chief of Division at Undersecretariat of Treasury, Turkey Email:

1) Kosova under UN Security Council Resolution 1244/ 99 -profile; Political relations with EU, h t t p : / / e c . e u r o p a . e u / e n l a r g e m e n t / potentialcountries/ kosova/ relation, accessed on 07.04.2010.
2) Ibid.
3) Sjursen, Helene, (2006), “What kind of power?”. Journal of European Public Policy, Vol. 13, No.2, p.170.
4) Manners, Ian, (2002) “ Normative Power Europe: A Contradiction in Terms?”, Journal of Common Market Studies, Vol. 40, No.2, pp. 244 – 245.
5) Manners, Ian, (2006), “Normative Power Europe reconsidered: Beyond the Crossroads”, Journal of European Public Policy, Vol. 13, No: 2, p. 184.

6) OHR Office of the High Representative -OHR Introduction,, accessed on 01.04.2010.
7) Manners, Ian, (2002), p. 244.
8) Council of the European Union, Visa Liberalisa- tion for Western Balkan Countries, Brussels, 16640/ 09 (Presse 349), Brussels, 30 Novem- ber 2009.
9) Manners, Ian, (2002), p. 244.
10) European Commission: Trade:Balkans (Bilateral relations, http:/ / trade/
creating -opportunities/ bilateralrelations/ regions/ balkans, accessed on 26.04.2010.
11) http:/ /, accessed on 19.04.2010.
12) http:/ /, accessed on 19.04.2010.
13) Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, COM (2009) 533, 14.10.2009.
14) Manners, Ian, 2002, p.245.
15) Stabilisation and Association Process, http:/ / scadplus/ glossary, accessed on 19.04.2010.
16) European Commission Directorate -General for Trade, Press release -the Balkans, Brussels,
22 February 2010, http:/ /, accessed on 26.04.2010.
17) European Commission: Trade:Balkans (Bilateral relations, http:/ / trade/
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18) Ibid.
19) Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, COM (2008) 127 final, 5.3.2008.
20) Instrument for pre -accession assistance (IPA), http:/ / enlargement, ac- cessed on 19.04.2010.
21) ) http:/ / enlargement/ candidatecountries, accessed on 19.04.2010.
22) Manners, Ian, 2002, p.244.
23) Enlargement: Uniting a continent, http:/ / eur opa. eu / pol / enlar g , accessed on 20.04.2010.
24) Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, COM (2009) 533, 14.10.2009.

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