Thursday

24th Jan 2019

EU 'perspective' for 'fragile' Western Balkans

  • Belgrade: nationalist train stunt came in run-up to (Photo: Milos Milosevic)

EU leaders aim to pledge “unequivocal support for the European perspective” of the Western Balkans at Thursday's summit.

A draft of the meeting's conclusions, seen by EUobserver, also said that they aimed to discuss the “fragile situation” in the region at their dinner in Brussels.

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  • Mogherini said on Monday that Western Balkans risked becoming a geopolitical "chessboard" (Photo: Wolfgang Klotz/Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung)

It said “the EU remains committed to the region and engaged at all levels, to support stability and to deepen political and economic ties”.

It also urged the six Western Balkan states to pursue reforms and to keep “good neighbourly relations”.

An EU diplomat said the statement was designed to send a double message to Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.

On one hand, to reassure them of their “EU prospect”, but on the other hand to warn them to curb nationalist rhetoric, anti-democratic abuses, corruption, and trafficking.

“Don’t think that the EU prospect gives you rights if you do nothing”, the diplomat said.

The summit statement will add little to the EU’s previous and more binding promises of future accession to Albania and to the former Yugoslavian states.

But leaders wanted to draw attention to the region due to a recent flare-up in ethnic and nationalist tensions.

Ethnic Albanians and Macedonians have brought Macedonia to a standstill in a political crisis. Kosovo and Serbia recently threatened to use force in a dispute over a Serb train painted with nationalist slogans.

EU states are increasingly concerned by assertive Russian, Turkish, and Gulf Arab state behaviour in the region on top of its internal problems.

“There is a growing understanding that bad things are happening there. External factors from the east make things bad,” an EU diplomat said.

Russia is believed to have played a role in a failed anti-Nato coup in Montenegro last year and to be playing a "destabilising" role in Balkan politics more broadly.

Some EU diplomats also saw its hand in the nationalist and pro-Russian heckling of EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini at her speech last week in the Serbian parliament.

Turkey is trying to gain political influence in the region.

Arab states are trying spread a hardline vision of Islam in some Balkan Muslim societies, which have sent relatively high numbers of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria.

Neither Russia, Turkey, nor Arab states were named in the draft EU summit conclusions as of Wednesday evening, however.

One of the EU diplomats said the EU needed to send a “political signal” to “stabilise” the Balkans region.

But EU leaders do not plan to have a substantial discussion on the Western Balkan enlargement progress on Thursday despite their declaration of “unequivocal support”.

Another senior EU diplomat said that EU credibility in the region was falling due to inertia in the accession process.

“The Union was not able to send credible messages to this region, enlargement negotiations are slow. It’s discouraging,” he said.

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