Identity, discourse, and the impact of EU conditionality in the Western Balkans
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Much of the scholarship on Europeanization has explained eastern enlargement according to the logics of materialism or constructivism. Materialists argue that candidates' compliance with conditionality demands is rooted in strong external material incentives and a credible shot at membership, while constructivists point to shared identities, norms and values. These are valuable insights, yet they do not address a critical missing element - how the dispersion of ideas influences institutional outcomes in candidate states. This research demonstrates that in order for the EU to have a transformative impact on the political institutions of the states of former Yugoslavia, national political leaders must be able to communicate a satisfying narrative of EU legitimacy that resonates with national narratives of legitimacy when justifying policy choices. The project goes beyond an analysis of compliant/non-compliant behavior to unearth a greater understanding of how, at the hour of accession, elite discourse operates as an agent to reshape histories, form new identities, and mold preferences. Together these processes have profound policy implications for the new regimes, as they lead to decisions that are consequential for institutional development at both the EU and state level. In particular, using a combination of content analysis and an original elite survey, this research finds that elites' ability to express power through ideas and over ideas can transform power in ideas for the cases of Croatia and Serbia/Kosovo. For Croatia, this entails elites creating conditions whereby the public believes in the idea that EU membership represents an 'escape' from the Balkans as opposed to a 'return' to Europe. For Serbia/Kosovo, elites strive to convince citizens that EU membership signifies a 're-branding' of the Balkan image rather than an escape. The Serbia-Kosovo territorial dispute figures prominently in the picture as it pits new ideas - a re-branded 'European' Serbia - against old ideas wherein the Kosovo narrative is essential to Serbian national identity. Serbian elites work to persuade EU and national publics that these ideas are not in tension and promise to deliver on both - attain EU membership and keep Kosovo.