The six countries of the Eastern Partnership program lag far behind their closest neighbors in the EU. But this is a testament to the bloc’s past successes, and a sign that it must help these states build up their democratic institutions.
When a far-right political party with a nationalist, anti-immigration, and Euroskeptic agenda joined a coalition government after Austria’s 1999 parliamentary elections, the 14 other countries of the European Union (EU) balked. The inclusion of Jörg Haider’s Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) challenged an implicit agreement among EU members that extremist parties would be barred from central government positions.
The transition from the 20th to the 21st century marked a pivotal moment in the Western Balkans. By the end of 2000, the three leaders—Franjo Tuđman of Croatia, Alija Izetbegović of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and Slobodan Milošević of Serbia—who had presided over the most destructive crisis in Europe since the end of the Second World War were no longer on the political scene. Moreover, the electoral success of democratic coalitions in Croatia and Serbia, the progress toward democratic standards recognized in Albanian local elections, and electoral reforms introduced in BiH all aroused a sense of optimism for democratization in the region. Thirteen years later, where do these countries stand on the path toward democracy? Has their performance fulfilled expectations?