EU reassures Balkans on post-Brexit enlargement
The EU, France and Germany have told Balkan leaders that the UK's exit from the EU would not stop aspirant countries from one day joining the fractured bloc.
French president Francois Hollande and Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel at a summit in Paris on Monday (4 July) told their six Balkan counterparts that enlargement of the European Union would continue.
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"The British decision does not in any way put into question commitments made toward countries in the Balkan region. They will be respected," said Hollande.
Merkel issued a similar call of reassurance.
EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini said: "It is very important for the European Union to reaffirm the willingness to proceed on the European integration of the Western Balkan countries - all of them”.
Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia are at different stages in the enlargement process.
Serbia’s new chapters
Croatia on Monday agreed to no longer block Serbia from opening two new accession chapters that deal with the rule of law, the judiciary, and human rights.
All EU states, except Croatia, had in April backed the opening of the chapters (23 and 24). But Zagreb at the time had issues with Serbia's treatment of the Croatian minority in Serbia and with its courts jurisdiction war crimes.
Croatia's decision prompted Johannes Hahn, the EU commissioner in charge of enlargement, to send out a tweet saying that "#European perspective is real!”.
Hahn at the summit also announced the EU would provide €96 million for three railway infrastructure projects in Serbia, Albania and in Kosovo.
"We will also provide €50 million for greening measures such as energy efficiency in residential buildings and small scale hydro projects," he said.
The Paris summit is unlikely to have allayed all concerns that the EU will be able to return to business as usual, however.
Serbia's prime minister Aleksandar Vucic described the UK decision "as the biggest political earthquake since the fall of the Berlin wall", reports the Associated Press.
He said the knock-on effects would be felt in Serbia.
"There is no doubt that this will have significant consequences not only in the short but also in the long term. What the EU enlargement policy will be, I cannot tell you at this moment," he added.
He spoke amid a growing pro-Russian sentiment that has taken root in Serbia, Moscow's only strategic ally in the region, with some in Serbia hoping that the UK referendum result would bring EU expansion to a halt.