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EU-Western Balkans Summit

While the EU Summit centering on the accession of Western Balkan states to the EU is a promising development, Donald Tusk urges EU leaders not to take their eyes off Russia.

The EU-Western Balkans summit took place on 13 December 2023 in Brussels. The summit was chaired by European Council President Charles Michel. It was an opportunity to reaffirm the EU membership perspective of the Western Balkans as well as the need for partners’ sustained and irreversible reform achievements, underpinned by EU values and principles.

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.”

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

During the EU-Western Balkans summit, Poland’s new Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, held talks with Western Balkan leaders, according to officials.

The Prime Ministers of the Visegrad Group countries met with partners from the Western Balkans in Prague on 12 September 2019. In this context, the V4 leaders reiterated their unequivocal support for the EU accession of the Western Balkans and their firm belief that reunification of Europe cannot be complete without their joining the European Union.

The President of the Council of Ministers, Giorgia Meloni, met with the President of the Republic of Kosovo, Vjosa Osmani, on the margins of the EU-Western Balkans Summit.

Meloni said on December 3: ‘’The EU will not be unified until the entry of the Western Balkans is completed.’’

Austria’s Foreign Ministry stated that officially Vienna sends a clear signal to third parties: the Western Balkans are members of our European family.

“It is vital to strengthen the pro-European forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina and to show to the citizens that their future is in the EU. At the same time, it is clear that Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to continue to deliver on reforms”, the statement reads.

Ministers from several Western Balkan countries expressed their determination to rise to the challenge of reforming their economies, state administrations and legal systems, and fighting against corruption to qualify for membership in the coming years.

The summit heard encouraging accounts of Albania’s root-and-branch shake-out of judges and prosecutors leading to more prosecutions of high-level corruption and organized crime. However, speakers reported backsliding on the rule of law in North Macedonia and entrenched state capture in Serbia, where a facade of justice reforms had not broken a culture of impunity.

Arriving at the summit in Brussels, PM Donald Tusk, said his role will be to strengthen European determination to effectively support Ukraine.

Donald Tusk said that he is known in EU circles for his obsession on the point of Russia. He is going to make sure the topic of Ukraine isn’t forgotten, no matter what other political challenges and topics arise.

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

Leaders discussed how to deepen political and policy engagement with the Western Balkans, bringing Western Balkans partners closer to the EU and advancing gradual integration, building economic foundation for the future and mitigating the impact of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, while reinforcing security and building resilience.

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

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 soon. Kosovo faces the added problem that many countries never recognized the independence it declared after breaking away from Serbia in 2008. Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo are high.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti says Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic planned and ordered an attack in northern Kosovo “to destabilize” the country with the goal of starting a war.

The Serbian President denied Serbia’s role in the attack.

“Why would this be beneficial for Belgrade? What would be the idea? To destroy our position we have been building for a year? To destroy this in a day? Serbia does not want war,” Vucic said.

Serbians hold a grudge against NATO, and indirectly against the EU, for the bombing of Belgrade by NATO in 1999. The bombing campaign was conducted by NATO to stop Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

That grudge materialized in frustration 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 — naturally, much to the annoyance of almost all EU member states.

The EU has also proposed a EUR 6 billion (USD 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.

Understanding the challenges the Western Balkans face and coming up with long-term solutions are crucial as the region moves closer to the European Union.

The Western Balkans region offers an opportunity to study Russian methods of sowing chaos and division to destabilize the EU and – by extension – the West. Russian influence in Serbia is growing and given that Serbia is an important player in the region, Russia is likely aiming to destabilize the region and derail its aspirations to join the EU.

At the end of the summit, the Brussels declaration was issued.

The EU reconfirms its full and unequivocal commitment to the European Union membership perspective for the Western Balkans and is calling for the acceleration of the accession process, based upon credible reforms by partners, fair and rigorous conditionality and the principle of own merits, which is in our mutual interest.

While it’s admirable that Western Balkan nations are getting closer to joining the EU, one wonders – given the volatile geopolitical global context – when the EU is going to find time to focus on the Western Balkans. The author doesn’t want to sound callous yet there seem to be far more pressing matters at hand than Western Balkans joining the EU.

Source : TVP World