Backing the Balkans

Prioritizing EU Enlargement Post-Brexit

A migrant looks out of a train window near the Macedonian-Greek border in Gevgelija, Macedonia, February 24, 2016. Marko Djurica / Reuters

“When the Berlin Wall came down, it landed on Yugoslavia.” So said Haris Silajdzic, the one-time Bosnian member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, indicating how events in Europe tended to trigger violence in the Balkans. Perhaps less violent, but still pernicious, is the aftermath of Brexit, which threatens to disturb this still troubled region. The United Kingdom's departure, after all, will make the region’s own bid for EU membership more distant because it has exposed the dysfunction within Brussels and the EU’s need for reform. Nationalists in France, the Netherlands, and other EU countries are calling for their own exit referendums, which diminishes the will within the Balkans to engage in democratic changes, particularly if there is no EU to join in the end. And without a plausible route to Brussels, the Balkan governments’ drive toward political progress could slow. In the end, Brexit could embolden

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