“The Western Balkans are of strategic importance to the EU.” “It’s not just a neighborhood, it’s the heart of Europe.” These are the messages with which the EU ends 2021. Big words, but the reality is far from expected and promised.
At the end of 2021, a year and a half after the adoption of the revised accession methodology, which aims, in the words of Brussels, to be a more credible, predictable and dynamic process of European integration of the Western Balkans, the overall result achieved for the region: opening a cluster in Serbia’s negotiations with the EU.
Slovenia, at the end of its presidency of the EU Council, as an important result in the field of enlargement policy, which was one of their priorities, states the “repeated European perspective of the region” at the October summit on Brdo near Kranj, as well as the adoption of the annual conclusions of the Enlargement Council.
“With the adopted conclusions of the Council of the EU, we have sent an important message to the whole region. “It is our direct neighborhood and that is why enlargement is of strategic importance for the EU,” said the Slovenian Secretary of State. Gasper Dovjan.
However, if we take into account the complete stagnation of the enlargement process in the last two years, which was preceded by a period of painstaking process between insufficient reforms on the one hand and insufficient political readiness on the other, then the end of 2021 can be considered a gas lamp that is barely lit.
Uncertainty for Northern Macedonia and Albania
On paper, the Council of the EU conclusions show that Northern Macedonia and Albania have the most positive assessments of all their neighbors when it comes to reform agendas – an order in the field of rule of law and alignment with the common EU and security policy. Nevertheless, both Skopje and Tirana “remained on the bench” of European integration this year due to the inability of the EU to agree on the terms of opening accession negotiations.
This year the member states reached a consensus on the text of the enlargement conclusions, which were blocked last year due to the Bulgarian conditionality of the accession process of Northern Macedonia, but the fact that the timeline for opening negotiations with Skopje and Tirana has been dropped, can not be seen as progress, much less as a valid European solution. It is a problem that blocks the deserved and promised progress of those two countries on the path to European integration.
Lessons for Kosovo
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti received a message from EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell after the Stabilization and Association Council that Pristina must work harder on internal reforms, especially the rule of law and the fight against corruption and organized crime, but also “a lesson after democracy “when it comes to constructiveness in the dialogue with Belgrade and fulfillment of the agreed agreements.
At the same time, the EU has not yet given Kosovo an answer to the question of visa liberalization, which has been pending since 2016. Brussels reiterates the mantra of “the importance of visa liberalization for Kosovo citizens”, but says it is still being considered by the EU Council.
Roadmaps for Montenegro
Montenegro received “further guidelines” at the 14th Intergovernmental Conference with the EU. Brussels has been told that for further progress, before moving on to the temporary closure of access chapters, it is necessary to meet provisional standards in the area of rule of law.
Brussels again urges Podgorica to deliver “tangible, strengthened and sustainable results” in terms of the rule of law and expects Montenegro to “continue its accession path with greater determination.”
Cluster for Serbia
Serbia is the only one in the Balkan region with concrete progress on the road to European integration: with an open four-chapter cluster, which is twice as much as Serbia has opened in the last three years. The Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabiќ concluded that Serbia is the only country in the region that received such a positive signal from the EU.
“It is a reflection of how Brussels views our achievements in the last year. “I am certainly happy about Serbia’s progress and good results, but I am not happy about the stagnation of the rest of the region in European integration, because it is not good for regional stability and for the whole EU,” Brnabic said.
The EU regrets BiH again
Bosnia and Herzegovina received the most negative opinion this year, both from the European Commission and the Council of the EU. The adopted conclusions express regret over the prolonged political crisis in BiH and stalled reforms, shortcomings in freedom of expression, decline in BiH’s alignment with the EU’s common foreign and security policy, limited economic progress, and condemn the blockade of state institutions.
The council urges all political leaders in BiH to refrain from provocative rhetoric and divisive actions, including calling into question the country’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.
This is another in a series of negative EU reports on the situation in BiH, with the introduction of statements about possible sanctions for those who undermine the stability and functionality of a country that has long been on its knees in last place on the European path in the Western Balkans.
Who is “specifically responsible” for enlargement?
Last year, all eyes on the Western Balkans turned to Germany, which has chaired the EU Council since the middle of the year and has the strength and credibility to “push and direct” the Western Balkans enlargement process. Whether due to the pandemic and the EU recovery budget or the real inability to reach an agreement within the EU, the Western Balkans have not advanced much. It can be said that it has even taken a step or two back, in repeated tensions, both within the countries themselves and between the states.
The French president Emmanuel MacronAhead of France’s upcoming EU presidency, he stressed that the Union has a “special responsibility” for the region and announced a policy of “European re-engagement and investment” in the Western Balkans, calling it “the heart of Europe”.
“I believe that political and economic work towards the Western Balkans is a real agenda of sovereignty for our Europe, because we can not build a Europe of peace in the next 50 years if we leave the Western Balkans in the current situation,” Macron said.
Let us remind you that when adopting the new methodology for joining the EU, it was France that insisted on the principle of greater credibility of the process and the adoption of the so-called “Corrective measures”, which means sanctioning serious stagnation or setbacks in the implementation of reforms in the Western Balkans. The only question is whether someone is considering possible corrective measures for the other side, in case it due to its shortcomings can not fulfill what was agreed and promised to the Western Balkans.
Source: Deutsche Welle