The Slovenia Times

EU summit in Brdo on strategic sovereignty and relations with W Balkans

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Ljubljana/Brussels - EU leaders will gather in Brdo pri Kranju on Tuesday for a strategic debate on the EU's international role in the light of developments in Afghanistan, the AUKUS security partnership and relations with China. On Wednesday, the Slovenian EU presidency will host an EU-Western Balkans summit, but no significant developments are expected.

Strategic debate on the EU's role on the international stage

European Council President Charles Michel has announced a strategic discussion will be held at an informal dinner on Tuesday on the EU's international role in the light of recent events in Afghanistan, the Australia-UK-US security partnership (AUKUS), and the development of relations with China.

"We must strive to act strategically, to strengthen our capacity to act autonomously to protect our interests, values and way of life, and to help shape the global future," Michel wrote in his invitation to leaders to attend the two-day meeting in Slovenia, which will be hosted by Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša.

The EU was hit hard last month by news of a new security partnership between Australia, the UK and the US to bring cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. The news was announced just before the planned unveiling of a new European strategy for the region.

As the geopolitical rivalry between the US and China is getting more intense in the Indo-Pacific, the European strategy is expected to strengthen the union's position in its relations with China and its role in the geopolitical shifts following the withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan, after which the Taliban took over.

When it comes to AUKUS, the French-Australian dispute over a failed submarine deal has been most in the spotlight, but the issue is much more complex as the AUKUS trio had not consulted the EU on the matter of the new partnership nor had it notified the bloc of it beforehand.

Another dispute in the EU's relations with China are tensions between Beijing and Lithuania after the latter endorsed Taiwan opening a representation office in Vilnius. In last month's letter addressed to EU leaders, Janša urged them to express support for Lithuania in relation to China at Tuesday's informal dinner at Brdo.

An EU source said today that the Lithuanian president will get an opportunity to present the situation, but that the EU's one-China policy had not changed.

Summit expected to reaffirm the Western Balkans' EU prospects and commitment to enlargement process

The EU-Western Balkans summit, the main event of the Slovenian EU presidency, will be held in Brdo pri Kranju on Wednesday.

According to Michel, it is an opportunity to reaffirm the strategic importance of the region for the EU. However, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo cannot expect significant developments or encouraging news.

Reading Michel's invitation, one cannot ignore the fact that he did not mention enlargement or EU perspective for the region even though the draft version of a declaration to be adopted at the summit says "the EU reaffirms unquestionable support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans". The draft adds that this support is in the EU and region's "mutual strategic interest".

According to the draft, EU leaders are expected to reaffirm commitment to the enlargement process based on credible reforms by partners, fair and firm conditions, and in line with the principle that each country moves forward taking into account its own merits.

Currently, the most burning enlargement question is when will the EU start accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. The summit is not expected to bring promising developments for the two countries as there is a slim chance of a breakthrough in this stalemate only after Bulgaria's election in mid-November.

The draft declaration, which is still subject to change, reads that the EU will step up efforts to promote the region's progress in its political, economic and social transformation, highlighting the importance of ensuring the bloc's capacity to welcome new members.

The declaration is also expected to stress the importance of implementing bilateral agreements between Western Balkan countries and EU member states and firm efforts to find final and binding solutions to bilateral disputes in the region that stem from the legacy of the past.

One of the expected concrete outcomes of the summit was a strategy on roaming that would gradually reduce the cost of mobile roaming, a tangible benefit for the people in the region.

But it seems that the EU is not yet to offer concrete deadlines to reduce the cost or scrap roaming altogether.

EU leaders will express their willingness to strengthen political dialogue with the region though, including by regular meetings with Western Balkan leaders. The next EU-Western Balkans summit is to be held next year, the draft also says.

The first part of the discussion at the summit at Brdo is to focus on the social and economic post-pandemic recovery of the region and sustainable development based on a business and investment plan for the region.

Leaders will discuss this alongside representatives of the EU's Regional Cooperation Council, European Investment Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and World Bank.

The second part will revolve around efforts to boost political dialogue and security and strategic cooperation, reaffirming the EU and region's joint commitment to pursue a strong, stable and united Europe, as well as to the stability of the region and the resolution of regional conflicts, Michel wrote in the invitation.

British newspaper Financial Times has recently reported that preparing for the summit, Slovenia urged the EU to admit all Western Balkan countries by 2030 in a move that stunned the other EU countries.

Some member states consider such a proposal entirely unrealistic, The Financial Times said, noting that it is believed a declaration that would include a deadline would never be accepted.

A source at the EU confirmed today the draft declaration contains no enlargement date, stressing it is impossible to set such a date because candidate countries join the EU based on their achievements in meeting the goals and implementing reforms.

The declaration also does not mention eliminating the communist legacy, something Slovenia wanted to include. The source said these proposals had not received enough support among members states.

Member states are divided when it comes to the speed at which Western Balkan countries should be allowed in and the urgency of further expansion of the bloc despite fears that, in the absence of the EU, China, Russia and Turkey would boost their political and economic influence over the region.


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