The states of the Western Balkans constitute a major source of ‘soft security’ threats to the EU. The EU attaches a great deal of importance to this subject, as reflected by the fact that justice and home affairs is officially one of the most prominent areas of cooperation in the region. This paper aims at elaborating on this process and poses as its key analytical question: What are the actual routes of influence through which the EU can bring these states closer to EU standards in justice and home affairs?
The analysis presents the EU’s pre-accession strategy as one of the chief mechanisms for exerting influence on the domestic political processes and structures of the Western Balkan states. Yet the application of the EU’s pre-accession framework to this regional setting suffers from two major shortcomings, namely the EU’s ‘commitment deficit’, which generates doubts about the credibility of the EU’s membership promise, and the uncertain timeframe within which compliance with EU rules will be rewarded. To counterbalance these shortcomings, the EU uses its visa regime for the region as a threat and main incentive for strengthening reform efforts. The analysis concludes with the argument that this strategy creates tension with the broader objectives for the region. Although the EU’s overall aim is to integrate these countries and to support them in their transformation towards stable democracies and open, European-oriented societies, its visa regime functions as an obstacle to this very aim by confining the movement of persons, such that they lose sight of the wider horizon.