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27th Nov 2021

Central European leaders demand Balkan EU accession

  • Kosovo's top leadership did not attend the summit (Photo: V4 Presidency)

Leaders from the so-called Visegrad Four (V4) group, composed of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, are pressing ahead for the EU's Western Balkan enlargement.

In a joint-statement issued on Thursday (12 September), the V4 are demanding accession talks open this year with North Macedonia and Albania.

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"The Visegrad Four group wants to welcome new EU members and it fully endorses the opening of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania this year," Slovak prime minister Peter Pellegrini told reporters at the Balkan-Central European summit in Prague.

Similar statements were made by Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban, but who then framed the need for Western Balkan accession as way to prevent migrants from entering the EU.

The V4 is also seeking an acceleration of negotiations with Serbia and Montenegro under the incoming European Commission headed by Ursula von der Leyen.

Von der Leyen had only earlier this week handed the Commission's enlargement portfolio to Hungary's candidate, Laszlo Trocsanyi, a former justice minister.

Hungary gets enlargement portfolio

Under his watch, Hungary had clashed with the European Commission following measures introduced by Budapest that among other things, booted out the Central European University and criminalised NGOs for helping asylum seekers.

The European Parliament had also triggered an Article 7 sanctions procedure against Hungary for having undermined the rule of law in the country.

With Orban's government having built a vast network of business and political ties in the region, the move to place Trocsanyi as enlargement chief is seen as a coup by Budapest.

It means Trocsanyi will be in charge of ensuring that the Western Balkans seeking to the join the European Union are up to task on issues dealing directly with the rule of law.

The move to kick start talks with North Macedonia and Albania may, however, meet some resistance from the EU's two most powerful members Germany and France.

The two member states, along with other enlargement sceptics, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, had over the summer refrained from backing demands by other foreign ministers to launch such talks.

Thursday's summit in Prague had also been overshadowed by the pro-Russian president of the Czech Republic, Milos Zeman.

Zeman had earlier in the week following a two-day visit to Serbia announced that the Czech Republic should withdraw its recognition of Kosovo as a sovereign state, accusing its leaders of being "war criminals."

Czech prime minister Andrej Babis later issued a statement, saying he "sees no reason for the Czech government to change its recognition of Kosovo."

The Balkan-Central summit was attended by the leaders of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. Kosovo sent an ambassador.

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