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EU summit offers no clear accession timeline for Western Balkan

On Wednesday the 6th of October leaders from the European Union and Western Balkan met in order to discuss the European integration process. After the summit a joint declaration by the EU stated that it ‘’reaffirm its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans’’ and that ” The EU reconfirms its commitment to the enlargement process.’’

Regardless of the European Union’s declared commitment to enlargement, it did not want to commit to setting a specific date for the accession. EU presidency chair Slovenia attempted to make 2030 the target date for the accession of Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania. This was  proposal was rejected by other EU member states. Some EU member states do not want to commit to a specific date for the the accession because they do not want a repeat of the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, which some argue was rushed and resulted in poorly managed migration streams of migrant workers.

One positive development of the summit was that Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was present at the summit. Spain has been unwilling to recognize Kosovo as an independent country since it does not want to legitimize separatists movements due to the struggle with its own separatist movement in Catalonia. Spain had not been present at EU-Western Balkan summits since Kosovo declared its independence in 2008.

Western Balkan countries have expressed their frustration at the stalling of the accession process. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama stated concerning the stalled process “We have prepared ourselves for a wedding several times… but the guests did not show up. We are no longer preparing for the wedding, but continue to show our love.’’ Albania’s accession talks have been blocked since its talks have been linked to North Macedonia accession talks, which Bulgaria has been blocking. Kosovo’s prime minister also expressed its frustration at five EU countries that have still not recognized Kosovo’s independence.

Tanja Fanon, MEP for the S&D group in European Parliament commented that European enlargement should be a strategic goal for the European Union. She noted that “Social Democrats have always been committed to efforts to step up EU enlargement and have consistently put this issue back on the agenda.’’ Dutch MEP Thijs Reuten stressed the need for the European Union to understand the importance of the Western Balkan region. Further European integration is specifically important when it comes to the importance of the rule of law. The undermining of the European enlargement process will lead to a loss of credibility amongst countries that are working hard to meet all the criteria required to start the accession talks. Reuten also gave a more critical note and commented about the European declaration that: ‘’ The adopted declaration is full of nicely worded but empty promises. Even ‘unequivocal support’ becomes meaningless when for years now we are going back and forth between giving hope and the cold shoulder.’’

Sources: DW Euractive France24 Reuters Facebook         
Photo source: NRC