EU leaders to reassure Western Balkan states of summit membership
EU leaders are expected to reaffirm the bloc’s commitment to the stalled enlargement process for six Western Balkan states without providing a concrete timetable at a summit in Slovenia on October 6.
The European Commission has repeatedly stated that the future of the six countries lies with the 27-member bloc. But divisions between EU states over welcoming new members and the slow pace of reforms in the six candidates put enlargement on ice for years.
The countries of the Western Balkans are at different stages of integration with the bloc.
Montenegro and Serbia are the most advanced, having opened accession negotiations and chapters. Albania and North Macedonia await the official opening of accession negotiations, while Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are potential candidate countries.
There are few illusions about the obstacles to the entry of the Western Balkans into the European Union.
The EU expects strong reforms to bring the rule of law, the fight against corruption, the fight against organized crime, the functioning of democratic institutions and media freedom in line with bloc standards. Meanwhile, disputes between Serbia and Kosovo have raised only questions about their commitment and qualifications to join the bloc.
At the same time, several French-led EU members have delayed the process for fear of further expanding the bloc with less developed states with weak institutions.
The club has introduced 13 countries since 2004, most of them less wealthy former Communist states, causing expansion fatigue among some members. Croatia was the last country to join the EU when its membership was completed in 2013.
More recently, EU member Bulgaria blocked the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia over a dispute over language and national identity. EU expansion has also been sidelined by crises such as the Greek financial crisis, the 2015 refugee crisis and Brexit.
States like Germany and Austria fear that failure to meet EU commitments to continue membership could push Western Balkan states into the arms of other international actors, while Russia and China seek to expand their influence in the region.
The EU “must send a clear message that membership is an achievable goal for the Western Balkans,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said ahead of the summit on 5 October, calling for the opening of negotiations for the EU. accession with Albania and North Macedonia.
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, host of the summit, said EU enlargement was “strategic” for the bloc.
“If the EU does not expand, others will expand,” he told German broadcaster ARD, referring to Russia and China.
In an interview with RFE / RL last month, Gabriel Escobar, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State responsible for overseeing US policy towards the Western Balkans, said the United States will make a new effort to help countries in the region achieve their integration into the EU.
On the eve of the EU-Western Balkans summit, EU leaders gathered at Brdo Castle in Slovenia for a dinner where they were to discuss US-EU relations, China and of the situation in Afghanistan after the takeover of the country by the Taliban in August.
“This will be an opportunity to address the role of the EU on the international stage, in particular after the latest geopolitical developments in Afghanistan, the Indo-Pacific, as well as our relations with China,” the chief said. of the Council of the EU, Charles Michel, at the start of the sit down.
With reports from AFP, ARD, dpa, AP and Reuters