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EU strives to reassure Balkan countries without concrete progress on their integration


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Meeting at a summit in Slovenia, the leaders of the European Union tried Wednesday to appease the frustration of the countries of the Western Balkans, blocked for years in the antechamber of the EU, with the temptation to turn to Russia and China.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, tried to reassure, on Wednesday 6 October, the Balkan countries seeking membership of the European Union by affirming that they were part of the European family.

After weeks of deliberations, EU leaders agreed on a statement reaffirming their pledge, made 18 years ago, that Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania could one day join the community bloc if they meet the membership criteria.

But while the enlargement process has stalled due to internal squabbles in Brussels or the region, many officials in the Balkans consider this declaration of intent to be an empty shell.

Speaking to the press on her arrival at the informal summit in Brdo, Slovenia, Ursula von der Leyen worked to dispel this sentiment. “The message is that the Western Balkans belong to the European Union. We want them within the EU. We are one European family,” said the president of the European executive.

“We share the same story. We share the same values, and I am deeply convinced that we also share the same destiny,” added Ursula von der Leyen, who visited the Balkans last week.

EU does not agree on enlargement

The European Union is by far the largest foreign investor and the largest trading partner of the six countries, most of which came from the break-up of Yugoslavia and the wars that followed in the 1990s.

But Slovenia, which currently chairs the EU, has failed to convince the other member countries to commit to integrating them by 2030. Several European states which fear an influx of migrants in the event of the integration of new ones members expressed doubts about an enlargement of the EU.

The community bloc has also failed to agree on concrete measures for nationals of these countries, such as the lifting of visas for the inhabitants of Kosovo. “It is a great injustice, a lack of fairness towards the citizens of our country”, was carried away the Kosovar Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, on his arrival in Brdo, noting that five EU member states do not ‘have still not recognized the independence of the former Serbian province, declared in 2008.

“I advocate that the EU stops being afraid and that the Balkans stop being bitter,” he said. “I still have hope.” Albin Kurti was due to meet Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during the day with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Fear that China, Russia or Turkey will replace the EU

After a dinner on Tuesday evening at Brdo Castle, north of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, devoted to the EU’s strategy towards China and the United States, several leaders of the Twenty Seven, including Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, felt that European foreign policy should start with its immediate neighborhood.

“If the European Union does not offer this region a real perspective, we must be aware that other superpowers – China, Russia or Turkey – will play a more important role there. This region geographically belongs to Europe and needs a European perspective, “said Sebastian Kurz.

Other countries like Denmark, France or the Netherlands fear a too hasty accession, as during the integration of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007. Bulgaria is also hostile to the accession of Macedonia of the North due to cultural disputes over their common history.

With AFP and Reuters


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