Tuesday

25th Apr 2017

Slovenian EU presidency to push for further Balkan integration

Keen on pushing forward EU integration of the Balkan countries during its presidency of the bloc from January to July next year, Slovenia has sent a letter to EU leaders and the European commission calling for "brave decisions" regarding the region.

"If we wish to realise the idea of the founding fathers of a Europe whole and free, we must take brave decisions regarding the Western Balkans", reads the letter by Slovenian prime minister Janez Jansa.

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  • Slovenia would like to see more Balkan countries in the EU (Photo: European Commission)

As a country geographically close to the so-called Western Balkan region – Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Albania – Slovenia has repeatedly claimed it would make it a priority for its time at the head of the EU to work on strengthening the ties between the Balkan region and the 27-member bloc.

Its letter says it wants to promote enlargement towards the Balkans in general, while pointing to some countries in particular.

Macedonia "deserves further support" and accession negotiations with Skopje should be launched soon, while Sarajevo "should not be forgotten", says the Slovenian premier.

He also takes the example of Serbia as one of the countries where progress could soon be achieved.

"With the necessary conditions met, Serbia could be granted the candidate status within a few months or at least in the first half of 2008", reads the letter.

On top of that, "the process of granting the candidate status for Serbia should not be made conditional upon the process of deciding the future status of [the breakaway province of] Kosovo", Mr Jansa underlines.

The European commission has received the letter and read it with "obvious great interest", a spokesperson for the EU executive said on Monday (1 October) but pointed to Serbia's international obligations to the current war crimes tribunal.

Serbia and the EU last month finalised talks on the text of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) – the first step towards EU integration.

But in order for it to be concluded, Belgrade has to fully cooperate with the International Crime Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

ICTY prosecutor Carla Del Ponte is to submit an assessment of Serbia's cooperation "shortly", but an exact date has not yet been given.

Being realistic

The Slovene letter has already caused some optimistic voices in the region.

"Since during the course of a presidency, the chair can have a major influence on the EU decision-making process and put certain issues to the forefront, it's particularly significant that Slovenia has, in the course of her preparations, raised the question", Ksenija Milivojevic, adviser for EU questions to the Serbian government was reported as saying by Serbian news agency B-92.net.

For its part, Slovenia said it would be realistic about what it can achieve.

"We will work as hard as we can", but "we are very realistic here", Slovenian diplomatic sources told EUobserver.

The European Commission will in November publish its next report assessing the progress made in both the EU candidate and in the potential candidate countries.

Currently the three EU candidates are Turkey, Croatia and Macedonia – but negotiations with Skopje have not yet been launched.

The remaining Western Balkan countries – Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania - are potential candidates and are all hoping to be part of the EU club one day.

Montenegro hopes to apply for EU membership next year

Montenegro has signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, the first formal step on the path to the European Union, and is hoping to officially apply for membership of the bloc next year.

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The EU and Serbia have moved a step closer despite regional tensions, with a Serb minister calling the EU "the best place in the world".

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