“Montenegro expects to open two new chapters in its EU accession negotiations by the end of 2018, according to the country’s prime minister, Dusko Markovic, who was speaking at joint press conference with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in February. Juncker was in the Montenegrin capital as part of his tour of Western Balkan nations hoping to join the bloc. Among these countries – Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo – the first two are the are the furthest along in the accession process and the only ones to have been given an indicative entry date – 2025. But this date is not set in stone and the two frontrunners could yet be overtaken by other candidate countries if they speed up, or if Serbia and Montenegro fall behind. If talk of ‘frontrunners’ and the possibility of ‘catching up’ and ‘falling behind’ makes the process sound more like a race than has been the case with previous enlargements, that’s because that is exactly the tone that Brussels is going for this time around. ‘What we have is a kind of positive competition amongst them, they’re looking jealously on each other,’ explains Johannes Hahn, European Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner.

Judging by the amount of feathers that this new competitive approach to EU accession has ruffled, it seems to be working. Kosovo’s President has even gone so far as to suggest that naming Serbia and Montenegro as frontrunners, while refusing to give any indication as to when the rest can join, borders on Islamophobic. This because the former two countries are overwhelmingly Christian whereas the other four countries are home to large Muslim populations. Even between the two leaders the competition is fierce, with Montenegro protesting about the tendency to speak of ‘Serbia and Montenegro’ as the frontrunners rather than ‘Montenegro and Serbia.’ Podgorica’s frustration at this matter was recently expressed by Montenegro’s ambassador to the EU. ‘We are in the process much longer than [Serbia] and we are nearly closing the [negotiating] chapters when they are just beginning,’ said Bojan Šarkić.” (EU-OCS)