EU affirms European prospects for the Western Balkans
EU heads of state and government met the leaders of the six Western Balkans states for talks in Brdo in Slovenia. The meeting was held at the invitation of the Slovenian EU Council Presidency, which sees sustainable development and the EU expansion process in the Western Balkans as key priorities.
Along with the EU member states, the six Western Balkans partner states were invited to attend the meeting: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo. They were joined by representatives of the European Investment bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank and the Regional Cooperation Council. The summit was chaired by Charles Michel, President of the European Council.
European prospects in the interests of both parties
In their statement, the EU affirmed their full support for the European prospects of the Western Balkans, stating that this was in the strategic interests of both parties.
“It is important that we have once again stressed what we see as our obligation to open up the prospect of membership for the six Western Balkan states,” said the Federal Chancellor after the talks, though she added that this was not about doing the countries in the region a favour. Federal Chancellor Merkel expressed her firm conviction that these countries joining the EU was in the fundamental interests of the Union in terms of security, peace and prosperity.
Accession talks for North Macedonia and Albania to commence soon
The summit talks included a discussion of the status of the accession process for the six Western Balkans states, which are at different stages as they move towards EU membership. Serbia and Montenegro have been negotiating their accession since 2014 and 2012 respectively. North Macedonia and Albania are waiting for accession talks to commence, while Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina have not yet submitted applications.
Merkel called for the conferences to begin the accession processes for Albania and North Macedonia to start soon. For Merkel, the next step would be to reach an agreement between Bulgaria and North Macedonia so that Bulgaria would join other countries in ending its opposition and agree to the accession conference.
The Federal Chancellor concluded that, two decades into the accession process, a good deal had been achieved. “However, there still remains a lot to do.” In Merkel’s view, the summit was a sign that “in spite of all the difficulties, we all agree that these countries belong in the European Union. We will need to set about the work vigorously, as this is the only way of ensuring peace and stability in the longer term, not just in the region, but in the whole European Union as well.”
Economic and investment campaign
The EU is the most important political, economic and trade policy partner for the Western Balkans, and it will provide around 30 billion euros of financial support for the region over the next seven years through its Economic and Investment plan. The funding aims to promote sustainable, green and digital growth, which will be to the benefit of the region and Europe as a whole. The EU’s support is tied to tangible progress in the rule of law, social and economic reforms and adherence to European values, rules and standards.
The summit is part of the EU’s strategic efforts for the Western Balkans, in accordance with the Strategic Agenda 2019–2024. It follows on from the 2018 summit in Sofia and the 2020 EU-Western Balkans summit in Zagreb, which was held virtually.
Informal talks on EU foreign relations
On Tuesday evening, EU heads of state and government met for a private working dinner, in an informal meeting hosted by President of the European Council Charles Michel to discuss the strategic role of the EU at an international level. The talks took place against the background of the latest developments in Afghanistan, the AUKUS security pact and developments in relations with China.
After the discussions, Michel expressed his view that if the EU is to become more effective and assertive on the international stage, it would need to increase its capacity to act autonomously. Speaking in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Michel observed that this not only applied to the EU’s independence as an economic power, but also to questions of security and defence. At the same time, Michel stressed that the EU had no intention of putting up barriers, and that leaders were committed to working with allies and like-minded partners, in particular the US and within NATO.