EU enlargement policy and socio-economic convergence in the Western Balkans
During the last twenty years, following the rich experience of Central-Eastern European and the Baltic states in the 1990s, the Western Balkan countries have largely privatised and liberalised their economies, along with partially aligning with the EU acquis and gradually integrating into the EU single market. The aim of economic, political and institutional reforms, that accompanied market opening and trade re-orientation, was to create functioning market economies and consolidated democracies in the Western Balkans. This should have helped Western Balkan countries to economically and politically converge with the EU and replicate the success of the other ten former socialist countries that joined the European Union (EU) between 2004 and 2007. Nevertheless, this transition blueprint has worked differently for the Western Balkans. Expectations that these countries would progressively catch-up with Western living standards, consolidate their democracies and become full members of the European Union have not been fulfilled. On the contrary, prolonged economic stagnation or regression, rising poverty and income inequality appear increasingly to be the defining characteristics of the social fabric of the Western Balkans.