Stagnant progress in EU membership of the Western Balkans
Brussels – Block’s once successful expansion policy faces a deadlock as European Union leaders meet at a summit on how to maintain ties with neighbors in the Western Balkans.
The European Commission has repeatedly promised that the future of the six countries in the region will be in the blocks of 27 countries. However, amid divisions among member states and some bilateral issues, progress stalled in approving Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.
Nationalists are becoming more populist and less united in Hungary and Poland. The arrival of well over a million migrants in 2015 revealed major differences in their management, creating a major unresolved political crisis.
EU enlargement is also routinely avoided by crises such as the Greek financial crisis and Britain’s withdrawal, and Brock is very focused on survival rather than accepting new members. The planned departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for many years and the French presidential election next year have increased the burden of decision-making and deprived the EU of clear leadership.
According to the Associated Press draft, EU member states are expected to reaffirm their commitment to the enlargement process at Wednesday’s meeting, but cannot provide a definitive deadline.
Against the backdrop of increased tensions on the Kosovar-Serbian border, the blockades cause frustration among the candidates and call into question Block’s commitment.
âThe dignity of people has to be respected, you know. Former North Macedonian judge Predrag Tasik said: âEurope without the Balkan Peninsula, in this region. No, Europe is not Europe. “
Six are at different stages of the EU Member States‘ journey. Montenegro and Serbia are the most advanced countries and started formal accession negotiations a few years ago. Albania and North Macedonia are awaiting a formal start of negotiations, while Kosovo and Bosnia are potential candidates.
The latest wrinkles are focused on Albania and North Macedonia after EU leaders refused to agree to continue negotiations with Serbia in June. While these countries meet the criteria to start immigration negotiations, EU member Bulgaria opposes the inclusion of North Macedonia due to controversy over language and national identity .
The veto has hampered Albania’s progress, as Albania’s and North Macedonian offers are linked and require the unanimous approval of all EU countries to start accession negotiations.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said: âIt actually took us hostage as we waited to complete all our missions and sit around the table to start negotiations with the European Union. There are. “
Albania and North Macedonia hoped to be given the green light two years ago to begin negotiations to join a wealthy European club, but opposition from France and the Netherlands dashed their hopes at the time. become.
The EU has always maintained that membership is based on the progress of candidates in areas such as the rule of law, respect for democratic standards and the implementation of socio-economic reforms. However, in the case of Albania and North Macedonia, the advantages recognized by the Commission will not be rewarded.
“It is not the spirit of this commitment to thwart this process,” North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said. Bulgaria is unblocking this process. “
However, the government in Sofia, which wants North Macedonia to formally recognize that the language has Bulgarian roots, has shown no sign of being ready to lift the veto. And other EU countries have shown no willingness to speed up the process.
Among the main players in the EU, Merkel has only used her influence to support Slovenia. Slovenia is now the replacement Presidency of the Council of the EU, making enlargement a priority for its term.
Offers from Albania and North Macedonia now appear to be more popular outside the bloc. US officials have warned that Western enemies, such as China and Russia, will continue to gain influence in the region if the conflict is still not resolved.
In an interview with Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, US Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar, who oversees the Western Balkans, urged the EU to start negotiations with the two countries this year.
Serbia, the largest country in the Western Balkans, has close ties to China and its Slavic ally Russia, although it has been warned by the West of their influence in the region. Some Westerners fear that Russia, which has armed Serbia, will destabilize regions still volatile by authoritarian Serbian leader Alexander Vucci.
In Serbia, public interest in membership is waning and its leaders frequently send various signals about the EU’s real engagement.
âIn recent years, if not decades, we have heard about the EU’s promise to join,â said Serbian parliament speaker Ivica DaÄiÄ. âThe question is, which generation will see these promises come true? Why not just say ‘I don’t want any more EU enlargement‘? Accept it as a reality. “
Since the collapse of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the prospect of membership has been a powerful driver of reform in the Balkan Peninsula. With the addition of Croatia and Slovenia, the EU has not expanded since 2013.
The immigration crisis is often cited by experts as one of the main reasons for the paralysis. There are fears that the expansion will create a new influx of people looking for a better life.
The prolonged tension between Serbia and Kosovo does not help either. Five EU Member States, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain, do not recognize Kosovo as a country.
âIt is crucial that Kosovo and Serbia normalize their relations,â said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. “The dialogue promoted by the EU is the only platform to resolve the current crisis.”
The EU is not in a position to provide a clear outlook for candidates from the Balkans, but it can at least provide financial support.
Brock said he would provide the region with around 30 billion euros (roughly $ 34.8 billion) over the next seven years to boost economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and accelerate improvements in sectors environmental and digital.
Contributed by Associated Press editor Dusan Stojanovic from Belgrade, Serbia, and Associated Press photographer Boris Grdanoski from Skopje, North Macedonia.
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