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EU Wants Closer Ties to Western Balkans but Expects Reform

At the Brussels summit, EU leaders discuss the Western Balkans’ accession, emphasizing the need for significant reforms. The Balkan states have been on the waiting list for over a decade with little progress.

European Union leaders met with hopeful counterparts from six Western Balkan countries in Brussels Wednesday to discuss their accession into the bloc.

Speaking before the EU-Western Balkans summit began, European Council President Charles Michel said, “We are expecting more reforms from them, especially in the field of rule of law, in the field of the independence of justice.”

Michel emphasized “strong political determination” by regional leaders to see such reforms through. 

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, called the potential expansion of the bloc to include Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia the EU’s “most important security guarantee,” urging member states to move quickly to bring that expansion about.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said accession provided a “historic opportunity” to “anchor” the region in Europe “once and for all.”

Western Balkan countries waiting for years to get into the EU

Several of the Western Balkan countries have been waiting on membership for over a decade with little progress to show for it.

Montenegro, for instance, applied for membership in 2012, followed by Serbia in 2014. Still, both remain far from fully aligning their legal systems with those of the EU.

Albania and North Macedonia both opened accession talks last year. Bosnia is hoping to do so later this week. Kosovo faces the added problem that many countries never recognized the independence it declared after breaking away from Serbia in 2008.

Expectations and frustration from Western Balkan countries

Borrell told EU member states, “What we need to do is to deliver on our promises and avoid frustration and fulfil the expectation that has been created.”

That frustration was voiced by Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, who blamed Western sanctions during the Yugoslav War of the 1990s for her country’s refusal to vote for sanctions against Russia — much to the annoyance of almost all EU member states.

The EU has also proposed a €6 billion ($6.5 billion) Western Balkans economic fund, but this has been caught up in EU budget negotiations.

After concluding the Western Balkans summit, EU leaders will convene for a smaller EU summit to begin Thursday. Among the topics of discussion will be  Hungary’s continued blocking of Ukraine’s EU aspirations — possibly as a way to force the bloc to cut loose monies held up over Hungary’s own judicial backsliding.

Source : DW