Why do the 2024 EU elections matter for the Balkans? - Kosovo 2.0

Why do the 2024 EU elections matter for the Balkans?

Countries in the region will be impacted, even if their citizens don’t have a vote.

Citizens of European Union (EU) member states will head to the polls in June 2024 to vote for who will represent them in the European Parliament (EP). With nearly 400 million eligible voters, EP elections are the second largest democratic elections in the world. 

720 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will be elected to represent constituents in the 27 EU states. Despite this popular sovereignty, voters across the EU seem to have become increasingly disconnected from the EP. Voter turnout has consistently fallen after the initial elections in 1979, which had an overall turnout of around 62%. The 2019 elections — in which just over 50% of eligible voters voted — were the first since 1994 in which over half of eligible voters participated. 



Actors seeking to diminish trust in institutions by delegitimizing the results and/or discouraging voting are waging disinformation campaigns on social media. The European Commission (EC) is pushing Big Tech firms to bolster their efforts to fight disinformation and comply with the Digital Services Act (DSA). The DSA is a 2022 EU regulation on online intermediaries and platforms, including social media. Its main goal is preventing disinformation. 

However, content moderation is particularly lacking in some of the bloc’s lesser spoken languages, as social media companies disproportionately invest in English-language content moderation. Additionally, recent reports have detailed Russian influence operations targeting MEPs, offering to pay them for pro-Russia statements ahead of the election.

The EU aims to match or top this turnout in 2024. To do so, EU officials have appealed to pop stars such as Taylor Swift — who as far as K2.0 can discern is not an eligible voter in any EU country — to help convince young people that voting is a worthwhile endeavor.

Connecting young people with the EP has been a priority for several individual member states as well. While most member states require voters to be 18 years old, Greece is allowing 17-year-olds to vote and Austria, Belgium, Germany and Malta all have lowered the age to 16. 

Beyond electoral results, turnout itself is an important indicator of where EU politics stand and whether voters see the EP as responsive to their concerns. High turnout would indicate that the EP is seen as a capable and important institution that can better the lives of the citizens it represents; low turnout would signify the opposite. Turnout could also be influenced by social media, a space that various actors seek to leverage for pushing forward specific agendas or undermine the election’s legitimacy.

Seats in the EP are distributed on the basis of population. The larger the population in a given EU member state, the more seats that state gets. Each EU member individually organizes its EP elections over a four day period — this election cycle, June 6-9, 2024 — and candidates nominated by national parties compete for seats. 

The number of MEPs a party receives is proportional to the number of votes that party wins. Once the MEPs are seated, most national parties join transnational groups with parties from other countries with whom they share common political goals and ideological roots.     

Across the ideological spectrum, larger and ruling parties in EU members typically garner less votes in EP elections than in national elections, in contrast to smaller or insurgent parties. This pattern indicates that voters tend to use EP elections to express dissatisfaction with their current domestic governments, perhaps to punish them for failed or unpopular policies. Part of why this is possible is that voters seem to perceive EP elections as less consequential than national or local elections and thus are more comfortable voting for parties they would not vote for in a national political context. 

EP responsibilities

The EP has three central areas of responsibility: budgetary, legislative and supervisory.

Per the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon, the EP shares responsibility for the entire EU budget with the Council of the European Union, adding a component of democratic oversight to the process of allocating EU funds. 

On the legislative front, as defined in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, the EP and the Council codecide on adopting new legislation. However, such codecision is for ordinary legislative procedures, whereas on special legislative procedures, the EP has a consultative role.  The EP plays an important role in the EU’s relationships with non-EU members, formally deciding on international agreements and enlargement questions. 

The EP’s supervisory role can be seen in its pursuit of tasks like electing the EC president, approving and dismissing the EC and applying democratic scrutiny across all EU institutions.

The EP is a key institution in the broader European political landscape. The elections’ outcome determines which groups set the agenda and define the intellectual terms on which legislation is debated and passed. This is particularly important when the main groups competing with one another have such deeply divergent political visions. 

In the immediate context of the 2024 elections, issues such as the climate crisis, the moral and financial responsibility of immigration to the bloc and the future of EU enlargement drive significant debate.   

K2.0 asks: how does any of this matter for Kosovo and the broader Western Balkan region? We examine three main policy areas in which what happens at the EP level matters: migration policy, EU enlargement and climate crisis mitigation. To understand these things, it is first important to contextualize the key players in the EP.   

What are the main parliamentary groups?

The EP mainly consists of seven political groups with different ideological backgrounds. Groups are funded through the EP budget and have access to committee seats, incentivizing individual parties to join together around common political objectives. 

The European People’s Party (EPP) has been the largest group in the EP since 1999 and counts parties such as Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), to which Angela Merkel belonged, and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform (PO) as members. The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) is also an observer member party. Recent European Commission (EC) presidents, including the current one, Ursula von der Leyen, have come from the EPP. The EC president, who heads the EU’s executive branch, is voted on by the EP and typically comes from the EP’s largest group. 

The EPP endorsed von der Leyen’s reelection bid in early March 2024. Even though the EPP is projected to lose seats, it is still very likely that it will still maintain its status as the largest group. This means that von der Leyen is likely to secure another five year term as EC president, despite the challenges her reelection campaign has faced. 

Currently, EPP members — von der Leyen and EP President Roberta Metsola — hold two of the top four EU institutional jobs, with the other two — President of the European Council and EU High Representative for  Foreign and Security Policy — going to coalition partners Renew Europe (RE) and Progressive Alliance Socialists and Democrats (S&D). 

The S&D is one of the main challengers to the EPP. The outgoing High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Josep Borrell is an S&D member. Spain’s Socialist Party and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Socialist Democratic Party (SDP) are key members, while Kosovo’s current ruling party Vetëvendosje (VV) is affiliated. 

Barring unexpected events, the EPP and S&D should comfortably remain the two largest parties in the EP, with the EPP anticipated to win roughly a quarter of the seats and S&D almost 20%. Historically, the EP has been dominated by a grand coalition of the EPP and S&D, reflecting a general centrist and institutional consensus. The 2024 election cycle may disrupt this, as the EPP and more nationalist and populist parties to its right are expected to make noticeable gains and lead to a more conservative coalition atop the EP. 

The race for third place is hotly contested between three different groups. Of these, RE, a liberal grouping most associated with French President Emmanuel Macron, was the largest during the 2019-2024 EP term. RE mainly consists of the pan-European Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party, with whom the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) is affiliated. 

RE risks being surpassed by two different groups to the EPP’s right. The first of these is the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), a group of eurosceptic right-wing parties like Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy. ECR’s conservative and anti-liberal democratic foundation puts it solidly to the right of the EPP. The second of these groups is Identity and Democracy (ID), a far-right group that has, at least up to the end of this term, counted the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France as members. ID represents even further extreme xenophobic and anti-institutional views. 

On May 18, 2024, AfD’s lead candidate told an Italian newspaper that he didn’t see all former members of the SS — the Nazi guard that oversaw policing, intelligence and concentration camp administration — as criminals, which prompted Le Pen to say that National Rally will not sit with AfD in the EP going forward. 

On May 23, 2024, AfD was officially expelled from ID. Subsequently, Le Pen has sought to build a new hard-right group with Meloni. The Italian prime minister has emerged as a crucial figure in these elections, as previously, von der Leyen and the EPP have made overtures to Italian Prime Minister Meloni’s Brothers of Italy about potentially leaving ECR for the EPP. At time of publication, it is an open question of whether ID will exist in its current form — minus AfD — in the next term, or whether it will splinter apart if National Rally and other parties that voted to expel AfD from ID are able to join ECR or a new right and far-right group. 

Such events, at a time in which the German court system has also officially ruled that AfD is suspected of extremism, are a useful opportunity for far-right ID parties such as National Rally and Denmark’s Danish People’s Party to differentiate themselves from AfD by portraying themselves as relatively less extreme — defending actual Nazis seems to be regarded as a losing electoral strategy. Whether voters will take this bold moral stance of agreeing that SS members were indeed criminals as a sign that National Rally and others are not as far to the right as their critics claim will remain to be seen.     

The remaining smaller groups are the Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA), the Left in the European Parliament (GUE/NGL) and the Non-Inscrits (NI), consisting of parties that are not affiliated with any group.  

Various polls project a significant increase in the number of seats held by right-wing and far-right MEPs. The question is just how far to the right the EP will swing. This will shape the EPP’s decisions when building a ruling coalition — will a combination of the EPP, S&D and RE be enough for a majority once again? Or will large gains by ECR and ID force the EPP to change its calculus?

What are the potential coalitions that could emerge from the elections?

Before AfD was expelled from ID, the EPP, ECR and ID could theoretically form a center-right to far-right governing coalition in which the EPP’s centrist and institutionalist instincts would be challenged by more radical right-wing members seeking a more substantial departure from the European policy status quo. The current reshuffling prompted by ID dumping AfD raises the possibility of an entirely new group emerging, consisting of ECR plus National Rally and even Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party. Such a group could be the second largest in the EP, giving it significant sway and putting the onus on the other groups to work together to avoid having far right MEPs in the ruling coalition. Nonetheless, major obstacles often shaped by domestic political considerations remain present.

It is still most likely that the traditional centrist coalition of the EPP, S&D and RE will gather enough votes to maintain its majority. However, the shifting trends and anticipated increase in right and far-right MEPs may force the EPP to change its calculus and partner with ECR. Such a foundation for a coalition — EPP, ECR and RE, for instance — could lead to the adoption and potential normalization of more anti-immigration and national identity-focused policies.

European Parliament is depicted above. Polls project that the 2024 elections will result in an increase in seats for right and far-right parties, though the exact composition of the groups after the election remains to be seen.

Even before AfD’s expulsion from ID, ECR, for its part, was seen as a potential landing spot for Fidesz, which has been non-affiliated for the past three years and was also invited to join ID. These political calculations may change the exact group sizes, but will not alter the fundamental fact of a significant increase in right, hard-right, and far-wing MEPs.    

Moreover, in the 2019-2024 EP term, the 11 MEPs most likely to vote against their own groups were all in ID or ECR. This further calls into question the far right’s ability to maintain party discipline and be a reliable and coherent governing unit.           

Such examples serve as reminders that even a rightward shift — or a shift in any particular political direction — does not mean that politics fall away and all group members have the same priorities. This is particularly clear when it comes to enlargement.  

The EPP must grapple with the challenge of a potential far-right increase in the EP. Yet in doing so, it runs the risk of further accommodating parties and legitimizing policy objectives at the EU level that would previously have been considered extreme. 

Migration policy is a key example of this dynamic. The EP passed a migration reform bill in April 2024 aiming to spread responsibility for processing “irregular arrivals” across all EU members and hastening the deportation process for people whose asylum applications are rejected. When the reform passed, EP President Roberta Metsola, an EPP member, declared that “We have listened, we have acted and we have delivered on one of the main concerns of people across Europe,” seeking to diffuse the far-right critique of mainstream political parties being out of touch with regular people’s sentiments.   

What is the EP’s role in the enlargement discussion? What about in the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue?

The EP’s relationship with Kosovo and other Western Balkan countries is significantly colored by the lens of potential EU enlargement in the region. The EP’s centrality to the EU budgeting process means that it has direct oversight over financial allocations to the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA), the principal mechanism through which EU candidate and potential candidate countries secure financial assistance for carrying out required reforms. 

The EP also exercises oversight over financial mechanisms tied to the accession process such as the EU Growth Plan, which committed 6 billion euros in loans and grants to aid Western Balkan countries’ reform efforts.  

Beyond applying financial oversight, the EP also plays a role in the technical process through which new members join the EU. The EP approves every potential accession before an accession treaty can be signed between the potential new member and the existing members, and then ultimately ratified by each individual country. 

A more right-wing EP’s impact on EU enlargement in the Western Balkans is not immediately clear. This is, in part, because national parties, whose stances are shaped by national political considerations, may have distinctly different views on EU enlargement. For instance, the domestic political environment in the Netherlands is historically skeptical of EU enlargement, leaving Dutch politicians with less political capital to use on enlargement than politicians in other countries such as Poland or Romania.    

Orbán’s far-right Fidesz party further illustrates this point: Orbán has historically been a strong advocate for enlargement, except for in Ukraine’s case. Hungary will hold the rotating Council of the European Union presidency for the second half of 2024, and Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó has signaled that enlargement, particularly in the Western Balkans, will be a priority for the presidency. This builds on Hungary’s previous emphasis on pushing Serbia’s accession process forward. 

While there are individual nuances within the EP groups’ stances on EU enlargement, particularly in the Western Balkans, all groups except for ID express broad support. Foreign policy is a key area in which the right and far right diverge; whereas ECR parties are generally oriented toward Euroatlantic institutions and security architecture and support Ukraine, at least rhetorically, ID parties are more likely tacitly or openly support Russian President Vladimir Putin.

This means that in terms of direct impact on the EU accession process, the June 2024 elections are unlikely to sway things particularly strongly; generally, the bulk of MEPs view enlargement positively, with all the usual caveats about conditions needing to be met. 

It is a similar case with von der Leyen’s tenure as EC president. Von der Leyen has consistently called for “a future where Kosovo and all the Western Balkans are part of the European Union.” Over her various trips to Kosovo, she has noted that Kosovo “continues to demonstrate an enormous commitment to the European path,” while insisting that Prishtina formalizes the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities as set out in the Ohrid Agreement.

Von der Leyen has also been a consistent voice declaring that “[The EU wants] Serbia to join our union.” On a visit to Belgrade in 2022, she said “I know that Serbia’s future is in the European Union. I know that our European Union is not complete without Serbia,” though always with the caveat that Serbia must normalize relations with Kosovo beforehand. 

After a time, these statements’ consistency amid the various political contexts in which they were delivered raise questions about how seriously they ultimately should be taken. When von der Leyen speaks — does it matter? What does it mean when von der Leyen says that “there is true momentum” toward EU enlargement in the Western Balkans? Would it be any different under a new EC president? 

The EC has maintained rhetoric about the Western Balkans belonging to the so-called European family for decades. 2024 marks two decades since North Macedonia submitted its application, which has been blighted by bilateral issues with Bulgaria and Greece

After Greece vetoed opening EU accession talks with North Macedonia due to concerns about the country’s name implying territorial ambitions over northern Greece, the country eventually agreed to change its official name from the Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of North Macedonia. North Macedonia was then allowed to open negotiations, but the process was blocked by Bulgaria before it could even start due to historical disputes more about Bulgarian domestic politics than anything else. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia also hope to join but face an uncertain path ahead, as does Kosovo, which officially handed in its membership application in 2022. 

Ilustration: Dina Hajrullahu / K2.0.

It seems like while the promise of EU expansion fades, citizens of these countries increasingly question the EU’s willingness to turn its words into concrete progress towards accession. In a recent poll, only 34% of respondents from North Macedonia answered yes in the question “Is the European Union serious in its intention to offer membership to Western Balkan countries?” In Serbia, 30% said yes, while that number was 44% in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 54% in Albania, 59% in Montenegro and 62% in Kosovo. 

EU membership is theoretically open to any country in Europe that fulfills the Copenhagen criteria, but the actual EU enlargement process is often shaped by geopolitical considerations. 

Copenhagen criteria

In 1993 the Council defined the following accession criteria that candidate countries must fulfill to become a member state:

  • political criteria: stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
  • economic criteria: a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces;
  • administrative and institutional capacity to effectively implement the acquis and ability to take on the obligations of membership.

Regardless of the aforementioned, the EU reserves the right to decide when it is ready to accept the new member.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 foregrounded Ukraine in the enlargement discussion. Multiple polls indicate that EU citizens view Ukraine’s candidacy more favorably than that of any other candidate or potential candidate, particularly compared to countries in the Western Balkans. Some in the Western Balkans feared that Ukraine — along with Georgia and Moldova — would overtake Western Balkan countries on the EU’s enlargement priority list. 

However, while Ukraine’s membership case has received significant attention and been framed as a potential electoral issue ahead of the EP elections, it is not clear that the rhetorical focus on Ukraine will translate to a faster accession process. Indeed, being granted candidate status, as the situation with the Western Balkan countries indicates, is no guarantee that accession is around the corner. 

Kosovo is a potential candidate country. This means that over half of the nine current candidate countries, plus Kosovo, the only remaining potential candidate, are in the Western Balkans.

Because any chance Kosovo and Serbia may have at joining the EU hinges on a normalization of relations, the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue figures strongly in the enlargement context.

The EP supports the EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, which is overseen by the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy and has been taking place since 2011. The high representative — Borrell for the past five years — reports to the EP. The EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Prishtina Dialogue and other Western Balkan regional issues serves under the high representative. This role has been filled by Miroslav Lajčak since April 2020.

For Kosovo, the past four years have been tumultuous. The general elections in 2021 produced a landslide victory for Albin Kurti’s VV, once a political movement opposing the negotiations altogether. Since becoming prime minister, Kurti has called for Kosovo to assert itself as an equal player in the dialogue, insisting on the importance of reciprocal measures with Serbia.

Kurti started in September 2021 by mandating that Serbian-registered vehicles entering Kosovo pay for temporary license plates, mirroring what Serbia has been doing with Kosovo-registered vehicles entering Serbia since 2011. This led Kosovo Serbs to construct barricades at the Jarinje and Brnjak border crossings for several days and prompted the EU to call for a de-escalation of the situation through the dialogue — a call that has been emblematic of the past four years. After a series of meetings, the car plates issue was resolved through an interim agreement, while the situation remained tense. 



1. The EPP, which calls enlargement “one of the EU’s biggest success stories,” sees Western Balkan integration into the EU as “extremely important.” It views EU enlargement as the “best guarantee for peace, democracy, and prosperity” in Europe and considers it “imperative as a geostrategic investment.” Meanwhile, S&D’s position is that it “strongly supports European integration and a European future for the western Balkan countries.”

2. Even the generally eurosceptic ECR group, whose top priority in the Western Balkans is limiting migration and emphasizing “security,” sees Western Balkan countries’ EU accession as “a natural process that will unite Europe and make the Union complete.”

3. RE officially favors “enlargement and an enhanced engagement with the Western Balkans countries and their perspective within the European Union according to the enlargement strategy.” This being said, some MEPs from countries such as France, where the electorate has a less favorable view of EU enlargement, join ID as enlargement skeptics.

4. ID’s enlargement skepticism particularly targets Türkiye. Moreover, its constituent parties have a history of islamophobic engagement with the Western Balkans and echoing Vučić’s claims that the West is unfairly targeting Serbia.

In June 2022, Kosovo’s government began a new policy of replacing Serbian-issued identification documents for anyone entering Kosovo with a temporary declaration form — a procedure Serbia has been applying for Kosovo citizens since 2011. It also ordered that all vehicles with Serbian-issued license plates in Kosovo register with Kosovar plates. This stirred things up in Brussels. After a long meeting between Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić in November 2022, Kurti refused to accept an EU proposal to resolve the issue of license plates and accused Borrell of giving up on the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Eventually, the decision was accepted, leaving room for new tensions. 

This was not the only thing going on in November 2022. The suspension of Nenad Đurić, regional director of the Kosovo Police in the north, for refusing to implement the decision on license plates resulted in a mass resignation of Kosovo Serbs from public institutions. This included mayoral roles in North Mitrovica, Zubin Potok, Leposavić and Zvečan. The elections to fill these positions, held on April 23, 2023, were largely boycotted by both Serb candidates and voters. This caused the overall turnout to be just 3% of all the voters and led to the victory of four candidates from Albanian majority parties. The election’s outcome incited protests in the four municipalities.

In this context, Lajčak and Borrell held separate meetings with Vučić and Kurti, but made no progress towards a sustainable solution. This prompted criticism by Kosovo’s delegation, with Kurti saying that Lajčak has a clear position against Kosovo. “Here we are dealing with an emissary who has distorted the process,” said Kurti, after a meeting, adding that he would register his displeasure with Italian Prime Minister Meloni, German Chancellor Scholz, French President Macron and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. 

The issue of forming the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities (ASM), which has resurfaced as a frequently debated issue, is another example of a topic discussed in the dialogue remaining stagnant. The EU foresaw the implementation of the ASM within the Agreement on the path to normalization between Kosovo and Serbia. Although neither Kurti nor Vučić signed that agreement, Borrell presented it as approved based on his word alone and framed it as an important step in the dialogue. One year later, the ASM has still not been implemented and remains a contentious issue between Kurti, the EU, and key EU states. 

The lack of progress in the dialogue and the growing perception that the EU is appeasing Vučić and exerting undue pressure on Kosovo to make concessions has led MEPs to question Lajčak’s credibility and the EU’s efficacy in the dialogue. Several MEPs voiced their concerns particularly in a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) on June 22, 2023. The EU had announced measures against Kosovo earlier that month. 

In the AFET meeting, MEP Michael Gahler from the EPP criticized Lajčak for siding with Serbia and not publicly criticizing Vučić. “Kosovo is looking for honest brokers that do not appease the Serb President and pressure the victim,” said Gahler.

Moreover, Tonino Picula from S&D listed a set of questions about whether there will be negative measures against Serbia and about Russian influence in Serbia. Picula’ fellow S&D member, Thijs Reuten, asked for a stronger and moral stance from the EU, calling Vučić an autocrat and criticizing EU’s representatives for an unbalanced view. “It was not even the terrible bothsideism,” said Picula. 

RE’s Ilan Kuychyuk expressed additional concern about whether the EU’s approach would have a spillover effect on Kosovo’s citizens. 

Greens MEP Thomas Waitz also called out the EU’s approach, saying that the EU made a bad impression defending the perpetrators and attacking the victims of the aggression, something that Waitz saw as undermining the EU’s credibility in the whole region. Another Greens MEP, Romeo Franz, also called for an end to the appeasement of Vučić, saying that he believes EU mediation has fully failed. 

MEPs’ criticism of Borrell and Lajčak’s strategy in the dialogue increased after the September 2023 terror attack in Banjska, in northern Kosovo, in which Kosovo Police sergeant Afrim Bunjaku was killed. S&D, RE, ECR, EPP and the Greens joined together in a resolution that condemned the attack and labeled its perpetrators “terrorists.” The resolution also called on Serbia to refrain from its repetitive pattern of escalation. Though the resolution was not legally binding, it urged Borrell and Lajčak to be more proactive in facilitating the dialogue. It also called on the EU to update its overall approach to Kosovo and Serbia normalization.

In April 2024, Borrell nominated Lajčak to become EU ambassador to Switzerland. It is unknown who will replace Lajčak as EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Prishtina dialogue. Whoever takes the post — former President of Slovenia Borut Pahor has been mentioned as a potential candidate — will find the dialogue stagnant and will have significant work to do given the stasis and frustration that Lajčak’s approach of exerting more pressure on Kosovo has brought.

Moreover, von der Leyen’s EPP released a draft manifesto earlier in 2024, arguing that the next EC should create a separate defense commissioner post and transform the high representative job currently held by Borrell into an “EU foreign minister” who would allow the EU to react to international crises faster. 

Whether these crises are expected to arise in the Western Balkans or elsewhere, whoever the EP approves as Borrell’s replacement, along with the new special representative, will have their work cut out for them. They will have to devise a new approach to facilitating the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue and ensuring that the EU is seen as a driver of reform and positive change in the Western Balkans and beyond, particularly if far-right voices hostile to Kosovo such as Le Pen’s National Rally gain more prominence at the EP level.

Where does the EP stand on migration policy?

Migration is a hotly debated political issue across the EU, especially in the period since the unprecedented number of migrant and refugee arrivals in EU countries in 2015-2016. Besides coordinating its internal policy on migration, the EU has increasingly focused on reaching agreements with non-EU countries in the past years. 

Accordingly, in 2019, the EP adopted a regulation broadening the EU’s Border and Coast Guard Agency’s (Frontex) mandate to include cooperation with third countries. Since then, Frontex has grown in financial terms, powers and staff. Frontex has the largest budget of all EU agencies, and that budget has increased significantly over the past five years. For example, in 2020, Frontex’s budget was 364 million euros, whereas by 2023, it was 854 million euros, an increase of over 130%.

Within the 2019 regulation, Frontex has signed agreements with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. All these countries are part of the so-called Balkan Route, one of the main migratory routes into the EU.

The agreements give Frontex executive powers at these countries’ borders with EU countries, allowing for border management teams from Frontex to be deployed to Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia. With each of these countries being candidates for EU accession, opening their arms to Frontex may get them closer to the long and arduous path into the EU. Through this externalization of its borders, the EU is increasing the probability of human rights violations on its doorstep.  

After the elections, Frontex’s presence may grow further. In a draft manifesto ahead of the 2024 elections, the EPP set out the goal of tripling the number of EU border guards from the current 10,000 — a number agreed to be reached until 2027 — to 30,000 in order to process more asylum applications outside the EU and to strike more deals with non-EU countries to keep migrants at bay.

Some of these ideas have already started materializing in the region. In November 2023, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and Italian Prime Minister Meloni signed an agreement allowing Italy to construct two processing centers that will accommodate migrants brought on board Italian ships in non-EU waters. 

Meloni’s antagonism towards migrants is not new and political opposition and human rights groups in Albania, Italy and beyond criticized the agreement for being “dehumanizing” and illegal under international law. Now that Albania’s Constitutional Court has ruled the deal is legal, nothing stands in the way of its implementation. 

While it did not take long for the construction of the centers to start in Albania, it took the EU eight years of interinstitutional negotiations to approve its new migration pact in April 2024.

The pact consists of 10 separate legislative texts and emphasizes several key areas, including screening of migrants, collection of biometric data, building of border facilities and “combined solidarity” among EU countries. EU members will either have to take in asylum seekers or share funding. One of the most contentious issues is speeding up the return of migrants deemed ineligible for asylum by the respective country they apply in. 

MEPs on the EP’s left and right-wing edges opposed the pact, albeit for different reasons. For those on the left, the pact is insufficient in protecting human rights, whereas from a right-wing perspective, it is not rigorous enough in suppressing migration. This means that the pact was essentially a compromise between the EP’s two largest groups, the EPP and S&D.

The pact’s narrow approval, made possible in part by the fact that MEPs who objected to parts of the pact but ultimately wanted it to pass abstained, comes against the backdrop of a significant increase in asylum applications received by the EU. The EU received 1.1 million applications in 2023, the highest number since 2016 and an 18% increase over 2022. 

Moreover, it comes at a time when the bloc’s capacity and commitment to ensuring safety, security and protection for migrants is being substantially questioned. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 4,046 migrants died or went missing while trying to reach Europe in 2023. 1,100 people died or went missing in the first five months of 2024.

Ilustration: Dina Hajrullahu / K2.0.

One of the pact’s pillars is “mandatory solidarity,” which forces all EU members to participate in processing daily migrant and asylum-seeker arrivals, even if accepting asylum seekers redistributed from other countries will be voluntary. Simple geography means that this task might otherwise fall disproportionately to EU members in southern Europe such as Greece, Italy and Spain. Beyond the question of whether something can actually be considered solidarity if it is institutionally required and not entered into freely, it is worth considering who the solidarity will extend to. 

While EU members will have to be in solidarity with one another, it doesn’t seem that they are obliged to extend such solidarity to migrants and asylum-seekers. In December 2023, over 50 nongovernmental organizations across Europe published an open letter to the EU, saying that the pact will normalize the arbitrary use of immigration detention, increase racial profiling, use “crisis” procedures to enable pushbacks and return individuals to so-called “safe third countries” where they are at risk of violence, torture and arbitrary imprisonment.

How does the EP engage with the Green Deal? What is the Green Deal’s relevance in the Western Balkans?

In an effort to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, the EU seeks to adapt the bloc’s agricultural, transport and energy policies through the European Green Deal. As with Frontex, the Green Deal has arrived in Western Balkan countries, even though citizens of these countries do not have a say in the upcoming EP elections. Complying with the Green Deal is a precondition for EU membership, making climate mitigation efforts another area in which what happens in the EP significantly impacts Kosovo and other countries in the region. 

Two years after the Sofia Declaration on the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, Kosovo, although not yet an EU candidate, adopted the Energy Strategy 2022-2031 in an effort to achieve a “sustainable energy sector integrated into the Pan-European market, ensuring energy security and affordability for citizens.” Kurti said that Kosovo has not had a better document in the last 20 years for citizens in the energy sector. 

Yet the Energy Strategy has not been adequately implemented. The EC’s country report for 2023 assessed that while Kosovo has made some progress in the energy sector by approving the strategy, it has made only limited progress on transport, environment and climate change. 

Implementation is a challenge across the Western Balkan countries, mainly due to a lack of physical, legal and administrative infrastructure to fully implement their environmental commitments. Kosovo’s main source of energy production continues to be coal, as is the case for all other Western Balkan countries except for Albania. Moreover, outdated energy infrastructure, arduous bureaucracy and lack of genuine political will to transition to green energy, along with new energy challenges such as higher energy and gas prices driven by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, remain as formidable obstacles. 

While Western Balkan countries struggle to implement the Green Deal without an avenue to question the policies, the agreement is now being criticized by von der Leyen’s EPP, who initially backed it, as well as ECR and ID. The EPP’s current position is that the Green Deal falls short of protecting farmers’ rights and will “do more harm to our food production than good to our environment.” 

Proposed policy changes stemming from the Green Deal include: the EU’s target of restoring at least 20% of its degraded ecosystems by 2050, halving the total amount of pesticides used and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. These proposals caused a wave of dissent and protest by farmers in various EU countries. The farmers’ protests have come against a backdrop of general inflation and energy price increases resulting from Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.  


In October 2020, the European Commission presented the Economic Investment Plan for the Western Balkans (EIPWB), along with guidelines for implementing the Green Agenda in the Western Balkans (GAWB). The EIPWB presents an investment package mobilizing up to 9 billion euros of funding for the Western Balkans. 

GAWB mirrors the EU’s Green Deal and is an important aspect in accession negotiations. It is organized around five pillars: 1) decarbonization: climate, energy, mobility; 2) Circular economy: sustainable production and consumption; 3) Depollution: air, water and soil; 4) Sustainable food systems and rural areas and 5) Biodiversity: protection and restoration of ecosystems. 

In November 2020, Western Balkan countries signed the Sofia Declaration on the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, endorsing and adopting the Commission’s guidelines on GAWB. The Regional Cooperation Council, a regionally led and EU-funded cooperation framework in southeastern Europe, also created an Action Plan to guide implementation of GAWB. 

The EC has committed 1.25 billion euros as part of the EU4Green Programme since 2021 to support the agenda’s implementation. Moreover, the environment and green energy are also components of EU’s financial support to Kosovo under its Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) III, which covers 2021-2027.

This backlash carries important electoral consequences for the 2024 EP elections, as anti-establishment right-wing parties have capitalized on it to reshape politics in many EU countries. Polling data shows that in 2019, potential EP election voters in seven countries — Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany — identified climate change as the top priority in campaign discussions. In 2024, however, climate change was only identified as the first priority in Sweden. Across the whole EU, climate change was fifth among priorities, behind fighting poverty, public health, supporting the economy and defense and security.  

Ahead of the 2024 EP elections, politicians, particularly on the right and far right, have sought to capitalize on a certain portion of the population’s anger and fear about how Green Deal policies would impact their lives. Consequently, opposing the Green Deal has become a common cause for agricultural workers and EP’s right-wing. For example, Le Pen’s National Rally in France, which was not previously the farmers’ choice, could garner more votes from angry farmers. 

In 2022, agriculture received 23% of all subsidies from the EU budget, despite accounting for only 1.6% of economic production and 4.2% of employment in the EU. While these subsidies are in place to maintain stable food prices across the EU, they also create a situation in which farmers’ continued livelihoods are partially dependent on EU subsidies. Additionally, 80% of those subsidies go to just 20% of farmers, meaning that despite support for the sector, many farmers in the EU operate on slim margins, around or under the poverty line. The Green Deal was von der Leyen’s major accomplishment, but now, as the political winds have changed, climate has been deprioritized.  

A right-wing parliament in an increasingly right-wing Europe

The 2024 EP election cycle has thus far been marked by predictions of a right-wing surge and increase in influence for hard-right and far-right parties. While the exact distribution of seats to be won by right-wing parties will not be known until the results come in, the overall turnout will also carry significance in showing how EU voters see the EU’s future. 

Historically, turnout for EP elections has been low, but some signs suggest that 2024 may break that trend. Indeed, a recent poll indicates that well over half of potential voters in the 27 EU states are “interested” in the elections and intend to vote. Still, in addition to the aforementioned Taylor Swift, the EU has also reportedly sought help from musicians such as Rosalía, Måneskin, and Stromae to boost youth turnout. 

The electoral impact of higher turnout among young voters is less clear than might have previously been assumed, as such voters increasingly support conservative parties. In this context, large demonstrations against far-right parties and politics have occurred in countries such as Austria and Germany in early 2024, perhaps raising awareness of an ascendant right among people who otherwise would be unlikely to vote in EP elections. 

The EP term from 2019 to 2024 started with Brexit as a key issue, then shifted to issues ranging from COVID-19 to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to farmers’ protests. The term featured everything from reveals of deep corruption among MEPs to a Putin apologist pulling a dove out of the fanny pack hidden under his suit in the parliament chamber and calling on his fellow MEPs to “give peace a chance.” 

Such idiosyncratic headlines and antics are worthy of attention. However, they should not distract from a key underlying fact. The EP’s roles overseeing budgetary allocations to enlargement mechanisms and Frontex operations, approving migration policy and charting a path forward on climate, mean that what the EP does and which voices it consists of matter for the Western Balkans.


Feature Image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

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  • EU – European Union 
  • EP – European Parliament
  • MEPs – Members of the European Parliament
  • EPP – The European People’s Party
  • EC – European Commission
  • RE – Renew Europe
  • S&D – Socialists and Democrats
  • ECR – European Conservatives and Reformists
  • ID – Identity and Democracy
  • AfD – Alternative for Germany
  • Greens/EFA – Greens/European Free Alliance
  • GUE/NGL – Left in the European Parliament
  • NI – Non-Inscrits
  • NATO – North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
  • VV – Vetëvendosje
  • ASM – Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities
  • AFET – Foreign Affairs Committee
  • Frontex – Border and Coast Guard Agency