The Slovenia Times

EU-Western Balkans summit confirms commitment to enlargement, brings no progress

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Brdo pri Kranju - The leaders of EU and Western Balkan countries confirmed the Western Balkans' EU perspective and commitment to enlargement as EU leaders adopted the Brdo Declaration in Brdo pri Kranju on Wednesday. However, the summit brought no major progress for Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo.

"The EU reaffirms its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans and welcomes the commitment of the Western Balkans partners to the European perspective, which is in our mutual strategic interest," says the declaration the EU leaders adopted after consultation with Western Balkan leaders.

The document also says that "the EU reconfirms its commitment to the enlargement process", but adds that it is important "that the EU can maintain and deepen its own development, ensuring its capacity to integrate new members", something France has been advocating in recent years.

The most pressing enlargement issue is the start of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania, as Bulgaria is blocking the start of talks with its neighbour. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said today that the EU not launching the talks undermined its role and reputation in the region.

Both von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel stressed the region must continue with reforms in exchange for the benefits stemming from getting closer to the EU. They pointed to the rule of law, free media and the fight against corruption and organised crime.

One of the expected outcomes of the summit was a strategy on roaming to gradually reduce the cost of mobile roaming for the region, but the EU did not offer any concrete timelines.

In the declaration, EU leaders also express their "readiness to reinvigorate and enhance regular political dialogue with the region", including with regular EU-Western Balkans summits. The next one will be held in 2022.

Slovenia was meanwhile said to have wanted to include in the declaration a commitment to admit all Western Balkan countries to the EU by 2030 and for the countries to renounce their communist legacy, but there are no such proposals in the document.

It is thus clear that EU members are not in favour of enlargement dates. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the summit that a concrete membership timeline would not be appropriate, but added the word should be kept about membership following when the membership criteria were met.

Prime Minister Janez Janša, the summit's host, said today that Slovenia had not wanted to include the 2030 enlargement commitment because every country was a specific case. It had merely wanted to have a certain timeline based on individual steps that would have to be taken in this decade.

He said a vast majority of member states saw this decade as the period when all efforts should be made for the prospect of EU membership to materialise to the greatest extent possible.

EU members are not united on the pace or urgency of the enlargement despite the fear that in the absence of the EU in the region, China, Russia and Turkey could start dominating the Western Balkans politically and economically.

While France has been reserved towards the Western Balkans enlargement in recent years, President Emmanuel Macron said today that tensions in the Western Balkans should be addressed with political engagement and investments.

The EU-Western Balkans summit, the main event of Slovenia's EU presidency, brought to an end two-day proceedings of EU leaders at Brdo pri Kranju after they discussed efforts to strengthen the bloc's strategic sovereignty on Tuesday.


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