Countries in the Western Balkans have been pushing to become EU member states – but some leaders in Brussels are reluctant to let them in. At an informal working dinner last night ahead of the Western Balkans Summit which starts on October 6, Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Janša, reiterated his calls for all Western Balkan countries to be admitted to the EU by 2030.
For years, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia and Kosovo have all vied for EU membership.
And for years, their requests have been denied, with France and the Netherlands among the most cautious EU member states refusing to back enlargement.
The bloc’s latest summit, which begins today, is expected to ‘reconfirm’ EU enlargement plans, however.
And the President of the European Council has highlighted a very pressing reason why.
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Russia and China are trying to gain influence in the region which has made the case for EU enlargement even stronger.
And Charles Michel now appears to be in favour of a more “assertive” approach by the EU in the region, emphasising the need for the EU to support the Western Balkan candidates.
He added that Europe is by far the biggest investor in the region – despite Russia and China currently looking to increase their engagement in the Balkans.
Slovenian Prime Minister Jansa used the summit to point out that EU enlargement is “strategic” for the bloc, adding: “If the EU doesn’t expand, others will expand.”
A European Council official also said that now is a “good moment” for the EU to be assertive.
Despite this EU officials have made it clear the Western Balkans Summit is not an “enlargement summit” through European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reiterated that all six nations belong in the EU.
She said at the summit today: “We want them in the European Union, we are one European family.
“We share the same history, we share the same values, and I’m deeply convinced we share the same destiny too.”
A draft text expected to be released officially later today indicates the EU leaders will reaffirm a “commitment to the enlargement process” but adds progress will be “based upon credible reforms by partners, fair and rigorous conditionality and the principle of own merits.”
But while enlargement is off the cards today, a €30 billion European investment program for the region is expected to be signed off today as a commitment to ensure the Western Balkans reach the same level of vaccination as the EU by the end of 2021.
Plans to stop roaming charges between the Balkans and the EU will also be discussed.
Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia all have “candidate status”.
Bosnia currently remains a potential candidate, as EU leader say the nation still needs to show a commitment to abiding by the large body of rules and standards, which amount to 35 chapters, required to join the Brussels club.
While Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is not even recognised as a state by EU members Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.
The reason behind the hold up is that several EU members, led by France, have strong concerns about expanding to include less-developed states with weak institutions.