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18th Nov 2018

Bulgaria calls for West Balkan EU integration after Brexit

  • Juncker (r) greeted Borissov (l) in the EU Commission's Berlaymont HQ (Photo: European Commission)

Bulgaria, which will hold the upcoming presidency of the EU Council, will push for the Western Balkan countries to be able to move closer to the EU in the next six months.

Visiting Brussels with his cabinet on Wednesday (8 November), Bulgaria's prime minister Boyko Borisov told reporters that Brexit provides a chance to be more open towards the six nations on course to join the EU.

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"This really is an opportunity for us to bring the Western Balkan on board as the UK withdraws from the EU, " Borisov said at a joint press conference with EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

Borisov argued that with Austria and Romania following Bulgaria as presidencies of the EU Council - all countries that are familiar with the Western Balkans - now is the right time to allow the region to move closer to the bloc.

"I think it is important and it is possible for us to have a decision taken on that [European] perspective. If we don't take a risk, we never make progress," Borisov said.

He added that that there is "no real risk" to the EU in bringing the Western Balkans closer, while there are possibilities for investment.

Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have been progressing at different speeds with the accession process, but the slow pace of progress have given way to some disillusionment in the region with the EU.

Juncker reiterated that enlargement is not realistic before 2019.

"For the moment it doesn't look possible for us to take in new members in 2019, I would like the European perspective to be seen not as an invitation, but as a continental necessity," Juncker told reporters.

He later added that Serbia and Montenegro will be members of the EU before 2025.

Next May Sofia will host an EU summit attended by the the six Western Balkan leaders.

Bulgaria also aims to bring more EU funds to the region.

"The Western Balkans need much more attention, if we have a gap there, it will be filled by others, such as Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia," an EU source argued recently.

The Bulgarian presidency will also focus on the digital market, cyber security, migration, competitiveness, and the seven-year EU budget.

Despite Bulgaria fulfilling all the technical criteria, along with Romania, it has not been able to join the Schengen passport-free zone, due to fears of migration mainly from the Netherlands, Germany and France.

"[The] normal and natural place for Bulgaria is within the Schengen space," Juncker said, arguing that the country be allowed into the zone.

Bulgaria has the longest land border with Turkey, and has played a major role in the migration crises.

Its officials point out that despite being one the frontline states, it is unable to upload data to the Schengen Information System, a database for combating cross-border crimes, and which issues alerts on missing and wanted people.

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