Three presidents urge acceleration of EU talks for W Balkans

Brijuni – The presidents of Slovenia, Croatia and Austria urged accelerating EU accession talks with Western Balkan countries and condemned the war in Ukraine, which they believe cannot be resolved diplomatically at the moment. At their annual meeting in Croatia, they also discussed NATO enlargement and Croatia’s eurozone and Schengen zone entry.

“The first topic of the meeting was the war in Ukraine, where we cannot change anything,” said the host, Croatian President Zoran Milanović, and Slovenia’s Borut Pahor agreed.

Pahor said that for the first time in his life he found himself in a situation “where I don’t see the possibility of finding a way to resolve a dispute diplomatically until Ukrainian authorities, and primarily they, together with us, see a possibility for a fair resolution of this dispute and for diplomatically resolving all open issues.”

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said ways of helping Ukraine and EU sanctions against Russia were also discussed. Both Pahor and Van der Bellen said it was key for EU countries to be united when it comes to sanctions.

Ways of accelerating EU integration of the Western Balkans were also in the focus of the trilateral meeting on the Brijuni Islands, with the presidents saying that accession talks must be enhanced.

“The time for this is long overdue, but it hasn’t happened yet,” said Milanović, with Van der Bellen adding: “The membership of the six countries has been delayed for many years and we believe that these talks should be taken to another level.”

Pahor said EU enlargement was a geopolitical question, which the war in Ukraine has clearly shown. “European prospects are probably the only lasting guarantee for peace and security in the Western Balkans,” he said.

Pahor moreover said that the EU should grant Bosnia-Herzegovina candidate status immediately and without conditions, which the country would be meeting later on. “By doing so, it [the EU] would invest in peace, security and a European prospect and [Bosnia] would break out of this vicious circle where there is no progress.”

Milanović also highlighted the status of half a million Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose “rights have been systematically violated for a long time”.

“If there is consolation, it is that a violent resolution of this situation is practically impossible. But political instability, insecurity, living in a disorderly space without any guarantees is the political reality of Croats in Bosnia”, which Croatia cannot ignore.

The presidents welcomed Croatia’s upcoming entry into the euro- and Schengen-zones, agreeing that this will benefit all three countries.

Milanović hopes Slovenia will not set Croatia’s implementation of the 2017 arbitration decision on the Slovenia-Croatia border as a condition for the Schengen entry.

Pahor said he did not understand Slovenian politicians’ statements to mean that the arbitration decision implementation would be set as a condition.

“It is true, however, that since the first day the arbitration tribunal announced its decision, putting it in place has been Slovenia’s policy.”

Croatia’s Schengen entry is also in Slovenia’s interest, he said, adding he would not make it conditional on the arbitration decision, which however must be implemented.

With Sweden and Finland wanting to join NATO, Milanović called for the same rules to apply to all aspirants: “Croatia had to wait 100 years. Others skip all the procedures.”

Pahor, on the other hand, said: “If whichever country chooses NATO membership out of concern for its security, we must pay close attention to it and be open about it.”

Today’s was the ninth annual trilateral meeting in this format, which aims at boosting relations and cooperation in closer regional format while discussing regional, European and international topics.