On February 6, the European Commission will present its new strategy for the enlargement of the EU. People in the Western Balkans may greet the news with scepticism.
But if the EU institutions and states are really willing to end the EU's policy drift and commit to support human rights and the rule of law in the region instead of sclerosis in the name of stability, it could be a new beginning.
The Bulgarian presidency is already committed to bringing the Western Balkans closer to the EU, including by organising a dedicated summit in May in Sofia that could create momentum.
Western Balkans states have struggled for the best part of the last 25 years to emerge from the devastation of the conflicts leading to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
The transition to become stable and rights-respecting democratic societies that respect the rule of law is incomplete.
Reckless politicians use the 'ethnic card' when convenient, undoing years of rapprochement between former enemies, or blocking exchanges between experts. Judicial cooperation aimed at uncovering the truth, prosecuting war criminals, or finding mass graves would benefit all sides, yet evading truth has become the norm.
Investigations are stalled or discontinued, prosecutions are rare, convicted war criminals are glorified as heroes.
For most of this decade, the EU's efforts to use its leverage and influence to set the Western Balkans on a democratic, rights-respecting course have been shallow. Progress reports linked formalistically to the 'Copenhagen' accession criteria have asserted that progress was being made while reports from non-governmental organisations continued to shed a light on a more worrying reality. https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/05/eu-needs-commitment-rights-west-balkans