Analysis

ANALYSIS - What has the EU-Western Balkans summit achieved?

While the Brdo Declaration reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to enlargement, the process will not proceed via political documents alone. There are specific decisions that the EU can take to facilitate the process.

Dr. Hamza Karçiç   | 11.10.2021
ANALYSIS - What has the EU-Western Balkans summit achieved?

*The author is an associate professor at the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Sarajevo

ISTANBUL 

On October 6, the EU-Western Balkans summit was held in Brdo pri Kranju in Slovenia. The former Yugoslav republic, which gained its independence thirty years ago, took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union in July this year. The summit was to be the highlight of Slovenia’s presidency.

The nine-page declaration stated that “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 and remains our shared strategic choice.” The EU further reaffirmed “…its commitment to the enlargement process…”  This commitment to further enlargement to include the Western Balkans is a positive development that the publics in the region welcome. But it remains to be seen whether this open-ended commitment will ever materialize. An increasing number of people in the region are more skeptical than ever that the region’s countries will join the EU anytime soon.

On a more substantial level, the Brdo Declaration stated that “the EU put forward an Economic and Investment Plan (EIP) and guidelines for the Implementation of the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans. The Plan sets out a substantial investment package mobilizing some EUR 30 billion for the region over the next seven years.”

On the political level, the EU declared its “expectation that partners will further deepen cooperation in the area of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and make tangible and sustainable progress towards full alignment with EU foreign policy positions and act accordingly…” This is a rather awkward demand on the part of the EU. For why should states in the Western Balkans abstain from pursuing their foreign policies in line with their national interests? If full membership is a decade away, why would Western Balkans countries align their foreign policies with the EU’s?

The summit was an opportunity for Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Jansa to be in the limelight. The controversial politician caused a stir in the Balkans a few months ago when a non-paper attributed to him was leaked. The non-paper essentially called for the partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina along religious and ethnic lines.

While the Brdo Declaration reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to enlargement, the process will not proceed via political documents alone. There are specific decisions that the EU can take to facilitate the process.

The EU should proceed by opening accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia as soon as possible. The EU and European leaders should put pressure on Bulgaria to lift its veto over North Macedonia’s accession talks. The momentum generated by starting accession talks now will spread to the rest of the region.

Bosnia and Herzegovina should be granted EU candidate status. This would be a reform-generating decision that would open up additional EU funds for this country. Kosovo, on the other hand, should be granted visa-free travel. The decision to exclude Kosovo from visa-free travel so far has been an injustice to the newest European state, and this needs to be corrected soon.

In sum, the EU can take specific and cost-effective decisions that can provide momentum for the Western Balkans.

**Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.


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