The European Commission says it wants to speed up the process of inclusion of six Balkan countries as members of the European Union. Critics say the move is also aimed at weakening Russia’s influence in the region.
“The merit-based prospect of EU membership for the Western Balkans is in the Union’s own political, security and economic interest, it is a geostrategic investment in a stable, strong and united Europe based on common values,” a European Commission ‘Fact Sheet’ outlining the new flagship initiatives said.
The strategy, unveiled by the European Commission on Tuesday, is designed to guide Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia toward EU accession. “It is clear today and that is [the] message – we will share a common future inside our European Union,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in Strasbourg. “Let’s bring the Western Balkans inside the European Union not in a far away future but in our generation.”
Under the strategy developed by Brussels, the promise of EU ascension should boost the reform momentum in the region to address the “specific key challenges” the Western Balkans face. Namely, the EU is urging the Balkan States to reform “independence of the judiciary and fundamental rights.” Brussels is also calling for new prospects to “complete their political, economic and social transformation.”
In the next two years, the 28-nation bloc wants its junior partners to follow the EU’s Action Plan based on six concrete flagship initiatives by focusing on the “rule of law, security and migration, socio-economic development, transport and energy connectivity, digital agenda, reconciliation and good neighborly relations.”
The Commission specifically called for normalization of ties between Serbia and Kosovo, after Belgrade refused to recognize the 2008 unilateral declaration of independence by the enclave. “Without effective and comprehensive normalization of Belgrade-Pristina relations through the EU-facilitated Dialogue there cannot be lasting stability in the region,” the Commission said, calling for comprehensive, legally binding agreement between two nations. Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said it was a call to “work every day from now … to become part of the European family of nations,” Reuters reported.
As it stands the EU has set 2025 as a goal for Serbia and Montenegro to join the bloc. Other candidates, the EU hopes, will follow afterward. EU leaders plan to present the 2025 timeline at a special Western Balkans summit in May in Sofia, the Commission said.
Some see the bloc’s proposed move as an attempt to diminish Russia’s influence in the region. “This is about shutting Russia out, and indeed to some extent China as well, from this region in order to make it a monolithic EU/Western block,” Marco Gasic, international affairs commentator, told RT.
“Serbia is the key to this because Serbia is the only country on the list which really needs persuading. And the reason why it needs persuading is because the price of EU membership for Serbia, unlike the others, is incredibly high. Serbia would need to be persuaded into allowing its province of Kosovo to be converted into a second Albania, and no Serbian politician would want to be responsible for that,” Gasic explained, noting that a lot of Serbians realize very clearly that the EU is basically “offering Serbia a chance to lose good relations, great trading relations with many economic blocks in return for having good relations with just one.”
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