Friday, June 21, 2024
 
 

Despite Brexit, Western Balkans get some attention

Looming debate over EU Enlargement rules

EPA-EFE//VALDRIN XHEMAJ
President of the Republic of Kosovo Hashim Thaci (R) meets with High-Representative of the European Union for Foreign Policy and Security Policy Josep Borrel (L) in Pristina, Kosovo.

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Despite all the noise surrounding Brexit, Libya’s civil war and the Iran mini-crisis, Brussels’ attention to the Western Balkans is increasing substantially as important decisions on Enlargement and other issues need to be taken in the first half of this year.

Enlargement state-of-play

Last October, the European Parliament urged the EU member states to take a unanimous positive decision to open accession negotiations with Tirana and Skopje at a future meeting of the European Council after the Council failed to reach a decision, largely based on French opposition.

The Council has said it will return to the issue before the EU-Western Balkans summit in Zagreb in May and this topic will be under increasing scrutiny in the coming months. 

The Commission is said to be working on its own reform proposals for the Enlargement process, to be released shortly.

Late last year nine EU countries (Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and Slovenia)  replied to France’s earlier written proposals to overhaul the EU’s existing Enlargement process, arguing that North Macedonia and Albania needed to get the green light by March 2020 even if the rules were under review, essentially undercutting France’s key strategic objective of deep structural reform and setting the parameters for a long and possibly bitter debate over the applicability of current Enlargement rules.

A beacon for Albania

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on January 27 that she would push for a start to European Union accession talks for Albania and North Macedonia in the coming months.  In view of the impending departure of the UK from the EU and renewed attention to that issue, she is working to keep the focus on the geopolitical advantages for the EU of both countries joining, and less on the benefits for the aspirant countries themselves.

After meeting with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in Berlin, Merkel said “above all, we want to reach an agreement at the next European Council in March to start accession negotiations with Albania, and also with North Macedonia.” “Both countries have achieved a lot,” Merkel explained. “We will now work hard to achieve the desired results in March.”

Borrell’s first visit to Western Balkans – Serbia and Kosovo

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell visited Kosovo on January 30-31 and Serbia on January 31-February 1. In Kosovo, he met with political leaders including President Hashim Thaci (a new government has not yet been formed in Pristina), party representatives as well as representatives of civil society organisations. Borrell is, in fact, in the process of launching an EU-funded project to improve air quality in Kosovo and also plans to visit Prizren.

While in Belgrade, Borrell met with political leaders including President Aleksandar Vucic, party representatives as well as representatives of Serbian civil society organisations, and visited areas around a Serbian national park.

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