One precious lesson learned by the European Union from the experience of its eastward expansion between 2004 and 2013, and applied now in the case of the Balkan aspiring members, has been to complement the politics of conditionality with the politics of pressure, whereby the region’s governments are ‘squeezed’ between societal demands and an uncompromising European Commission. The Commission’s search for civil society allies in the Balkans represents a promising break with the legacy of previous accessions, in which governments were Brussels’ only trusted interlocutors. Yet, the new strategy still overestimates the ability of Balkan societies to step up to the mark by themselves. A vibrant civil society is a long-term investment that the EU should beef up further. The public administration reform (PAR) sector supplies concrete opportunities for the Union to do just that. The policy brief is available for download here.