Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

EU summit marks big moment for Western Balkans

Leaders on Friday (28 June) endorsed the launch of Serbia accession talks and welcomed Croatia's impending EU entry.

They said the first round of Serbia talks will take place no later than January 2014.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"This is indeed historic … We must not forget that no so long ago in this part of Europe, we saw one of the most violent wars and now we are starting negotiations," European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso told press, referring to the 1990s Balkan conflicts.

Noting that leaders also backed talks on a pre-accession pact with Serbia's old enemy, Kosovo, he added: "This is a demonstration of the powers of attraction the European Union has."

With the bulk of the summit devoted to anti-crisis measures, Barroso highlighted another decision - to let Latvia join the euro.

"Not long ago, many people were talking about the euro breaking up. What we are seeing is the opposite - we have another member of the euro area from the beginning of next year," he said.

For his part, EU Council head Herman Van Rompuy downplayed the importance of a technicality on Serbia.

The small print says EU leaders, not foreign ministers, must sign off a European Commission negotiating mandate before the talks take place.

The detail raises the risk that leaders might punish Serbia if it backslides on a deal to mend relations with Kosovo.

But Van Rompuy noted: "This is normal practice that we are following. When the European Council confirms the mandate, it will not add any additional conditions."

The summit took place just 48 hours before Croatia celebrates EU accession.

Barroso and Van Rompuy are going to Zagreb for festivities on Sunday and to Belgrade and Pristina on Monday.

"You are most welcome, Zoran, in this club," Van Rompuy told Croatian leader Zoran Milanovic earlier on Friday.

Milanovic said: "I am sort of emotional at this moment … Twenty two years ago it looked as though everything would be resolved in a few weeks' time. Then the war happened."

He added: "We will do everything and anything to help and assist our neighbours who are not yet in the club."

The adhesion of the small country will see the EU's population rise from 502.4 million to 506.8 million.

Croatia's EU commissioner is to handle consumer affairs. Zagreb also gets seven votes in the EU Council and 12 MEPs, while the commission is hiring 249 Croatian officials, including a director general.

The French and German leaders said next to nothing on Croatia in their press briefings.

In a minor blip, Germany's Angela Merkel last week cancelled her trip to Sunday's celebrations in Zagreb.

Her people said it is due to agenda reasons. But Croatian and German media say it is linked to Zagreb's refusal to extradite a Yugoslav-era spy wanted for murder.

In another blip, which highlights Croatia's struggle to curb high-level corruption, Finnish prosecutors on Friday said they will try three people for bribing Croatian officials in an arms deal.

Meanwhile, grim economic figures will see Zagreb fall foul of EU benchmarks the minute it joins.

Its deficit is to hit 4.7 percent this year, breaking the EU's 3 percent rule, while its debt is heading for 62.5 percent, compared to the EU's 60 percent norm.

After four years of recession, unemployment is 18 percent, rising to 51 percent for the under-25s.

Milanovic told French daily Le Monde on Friday it is "absurd" to compare Croatia with bailout country Greece.

Noting his government's mix of left-wing and liberal policies, he added: "At the risk of sounding pretentious, I would say our vision is the Scandinavian [economic] model."

Abysmal turnout in Croatia's EU vote

Two and a half months before Croatia joins the EU, just 21 percent of voters bothered to cast ballots in Sunday's election of 12 MEPs.

Croatia becomes 28th EU member state

Croatia became the 28th member of the EU at midnight on Sunday, less than 20 years after gaining independence from Yugoslavia.

EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency

A resolution demanding Saudi Arabia release prisoners and stop gender-based violence was passed by over 500 MEPs on Thursday in Strasbourg. They also demanded greater transparency over Brussels-based lobbying for the Saudis, following an EUobserver exclusive.

Saudis paying College of Europe to lobby MEPs

The Bruges-based College of Europe is setting up private meetings with the EU institutions for seven ambassadors plus seven high-level officials from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  2. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  3. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  5. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  8. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups

Latest News

  1. EU says Hungary's anti-Juncker campaign is fake news
  2. Trump right for once: Europe should take back foreign fighters
  3. EU should clarify rules for plant burgers and lab meat
  4. Italian populists could be second biggest force in EU parliament
  5. Merkel defends Russia ties, ridicules Trump on cars
  6. British MPs condemn Facebook CEO's misrule
  7. EU's chance to step up on Hungary and Poland
  8. ESA pushback against new EU space agency plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us