For the six countries of the Western Balkans, the wait at the gates of the European Union is beginning to be long

Double summit in Brussels: Ahead of the European Union summit which is to grant accession candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, the Europeans met with a handful of other countries, six, all from the Western Balkans and all in routes of accession the Union.

But not all of them are at the same stage and above all the process is hard, which is why they are getting impatient and have come to express their discontent in Brussels: four of them are officially candidates but have been trapped in the EU antechamber for years: Macedonia North (2005), Montenegro (2010), Serbia (2012) and Albania (2014). Two other former republics of the Federation of Yugoslavia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, are considered potential candidates but do not yet meet the membership criteria.

Proof of the bad atmosphere and the prevailing bitterness, the traditional press conference scheduled at the end of the meeting has been canceled purely and simply. The meeting itself lasted 4 hours, twice as long as expected, and did not result in anything concrete. According to a European source, the Union will continue to provide clear support to the Western Balkans region.

a long wait

Until now, the slowness of the negotiations did not worry too much, especially in Western Europe, and in fact reflected the lack of desire to extend the Union to the poorest countries, mired in tensions. But the war in Ukraine has made people aware of the need to link the countries on the southeastern flank of the Union more firmly.

While France has been able to show reluctance to the integration of the 6, other Member States have been more active, such as Greece, which wants this integration to be completed in 2033, or Austria, in favor of rapid accession to the “great potential for the destabilization of Russia not only in Eastern Europe, but also in the Southeast”. Slovenia is also pushing for Bosnia and Herzegovina to get candidate status at this summit.

For the President of the Council, Charles Michel, today’s summit should allow “revitalize“the process with the countries of the Western Balkans by sending a message”loud and clear” : “We are committed to the French presidency to put proposals on the table, in order to start negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia as soon as possible.“.

For the Belgian Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo, the Western Balkans must be given more clarity about their European perspective, if these countries implement a series of reforms. In his opinion, the decision expected this Thursday afternoon on granting Ukraine the status of a candidate for the EU constitutes a “historical and symbolic moment strong, in the face of a Russia that does everything to destabilize Europe“.

Ukraine, which is preparing to give priority to the countries of the Western Balkans, leaves its mark. Arriving at this meeting, the Albanian Prime Minister, Edi Rama, had advised the Ukrainians not to “do not flatter yourself“about the candidate status granted by the European Union, because the admission process will be very long.”North Macedonia has been a candidate for 17 years, if I haven’t lost count, and Albania for eight years.“, he remembered.

Joining will take a long time“, Alexander De Croo has also confirmed.

Germany is the biggest supporter of the Western Balkans. “Its citizens have been waiting for almost 20 years for the possibility of becoming members of the European Union. It is of utmost importance that this promise becomes credible“, insisted Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Bulgarian veto: stalled talks with North Macedonia and Albania

But something unexpected cast a shadow over this EU-Western Balkans summit: the change of power that took place on Wednesday night in the Bulgarian parliament. The Prime Minister, the government of the liberal reformist Kiril Petkov was swept away by a motion of censure, in a context of differences accentuated by the war in Ukraine.

Sofia had long vetoed the opening of EU accession negotiations since north macedoniacandidate since 2005, and indirectly from Albania.

A blockade for reasons of historical and cultural disputes. The French presidency did not reach the end of it. Bulgaria demands that the Macedonians recognize in their constitution the Bulgarian origins of their language and better protect their Bulgarian minority, but without recognizing in return the rights of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. However, before that, the dispute with Greece over the name “Macedonia” was resolved in 2018.

No mediation has borne fruit so far, and furthermore Bulgaria finds itself at Thursday’s summit with a ousted government.

Albanianwhose application for membership is de facto associated with that of North Macedonia by several Member States, becomes a collateral victim of the blockade, “a shamein the eyes of Prime Minister Edi Rama, while Skopje has been applying for membership since 2004 and Tirana since 2009. Albania has been an official candidate since 2014.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: not yet a candidate

The Bosnia and Herzegovina is trying to obtain candidate status but has not yet managed to meet certain recommendations to achieve it.

Charles Michel underlines the efforts of the last few days to make his institutions work. But this country is also an example of the brakes that exist in the accession process linked to the recurring tensions observed on the borders and within these States born of the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

You montenegro it gained independence in 2006 and applied to join the Union in December 2008. It obtained candidate country status in December 2010 and started accession negotiations in June 2012. Since 2007, the euro has been the currency of this country.

For the Commission, membership by 2025 was possible, as for Serbia, while recognizing that this perspective is “extremely ambitious“.”This perspective will depend, ultimately, on the existence of a strong political will, the implementation of effective and lasting reforms, and the definitive solution of the disputes with its neighbors.“.

The winding roads of Kosovo and Serbia

For his part, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, announced progress in the dialogue between the Kosovo and the Serbian on the energy side, but more is needed: without an agreement between these two states, the Serbian dossier will not succeed.

Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence in February 2008. Five EU Member States (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain) as well as two countries in the region (Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina) did not recognize its independence. Since then, he has been trying to obtain the status of a candidate, but has not yet applied, even if he expresses his desire in this direction, so we speak of a “potential candidate.”

In the region, Kosovo continues to be the only one excluded from the liberalization of the visa regime, with several Member States of the Union maintaining reservations. Vjosa Osmani, the president of the KosovoHe recalled his country’s request to liberalize these visas to the EU, a file still under study due to the lack of consensus among the 27.

The Western Balkans need a message”clear and united” of the EU, under penalty of letting other external actors gain a foothold in the space left empty, he warns. Russia, China, Turkey and the Gulf countries are gaining influence in this region whose expectations are frustrated by the EU’s procrastination .

The Kosovar president also warns the Serbiancandidate since 2012: “Those who believe that they can go the way of Moscow, the way of Putin, as well as the way of the EU, do not deserve to go the way of the EU.“.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic responded: “We support the territorial integrity of Ukraine like that of Serbia, which is not the case with many EU member states.“. And this is the other obstacle of this summit: Serbia’s attitude towards Moscow derails the message of unity that will be sent to Russia.

A traditional ally of Moscow, Serbia does not participate in the EU sanctions against Russia. President Vucic renewed a gas contract with Russia in June, an ambiguous move that, along with attacks on the rule of law and press freedom, is chilling Europeans. The European Parliament demanded that Serbia demonstrate its European commitment and reconsider its position towards Russia.

For the European Commission, the accession of the Serbne peut intervene before 2025 car les accords signed after 2013 avec le Kosovo ne sont pas all appliqués et la reconnaissance du Kosovo par la Serbie est une condition à l’entrée de ces deux pays dans the European Union. And Aleksandar Vucic was categorical: it was not about recognizing Kosovo.

The Serbian president, who arrived in Brussels dragging his feet, declared that “anyexpect from this summit.

An alternative proposed by Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron announced on May 9, Europe Day, a project for a European Political Community (EPC). The French president imagines a complementary structure to the membership status based on common democratic values. This organization must promote cooperation in the areas of security, energy, infrastructure and movement of people, especially young people. The card of political integration would be played as a priority, leaving aside the most difficult criteria: economic and legal.

This community would not be limited to the Western Balkans, but would also target Ukraine and 8 other candidates, such as Moldova and Turkey, which has also been waiting its turn for 23 years. The French president is even thinking of the UK…

This project is still quite vague, which the support of Charles Michel, It owes a lot to François Mitterrand’s idea of ​​a European Confederation in 1989. But it is far from unanimous, because it supposes a differentiated treatment between Europeans where some could find themselves in a perpetual antechamber. Among those who expressed serious reservations, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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