Thursday

28th Jan 2021

EPP wants to re-open accession talks with Balkans

  • 'There still has to be a realistic perspective of membership for the countries of the Western Balkans,' Angela Merkel said at the congress in Zagreb of the EPP (Photo: EU Commission)

An emergency resolution adopted at the European People's Party (EPP) congress in Zagreb calls on the EU council and member states to commit to taking a positive decision on re-opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania as soon as possible.

During the last EU summit, France, Denmark, and the Netherlands blocked enlargement talks with these two Balkan countries.

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However, the text adopted on Wednesday (20 November) states that "the incoming new European commission should immediately take stock of the enlargement policy and assist in reverting this negative decision as soon as possible".

"We share the same continent, history, and culture. It is in our common interest that the Western Balkans have a European perspective," said EU commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen.

The efforts of both North Macedonia and Albania were largely recognised by the largest European political party, although some EPP delegates pointed out that corruption and the political crisis remain an issue of concern in Albania.

The Western Balkans might not be part of the European Union, but they are part of Europe, since they are geographically surrounded by EU member states, sharing common heritage and history.

A Bosniak member of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Šefik Džaferović, said that "the EU is based on the idea that people of different races, nations and religions can live together".

However, "today there are some [politicians] in Europe that do not agree with the idea of respecting that diversity, since they believe that some nations and religions do not have their place in Europe," Džaferović added.

After blocking accession negotiations, France has recently proposed to change the current EU enlargement process for a "gradual association," based on a seven-step method.

While Denmark and the Netherlands seem to have a similar approach to the French model, while Austria, the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia were "convergent" with it.

"The European project will not be completed without the Balkan region," pointed out the next commissioner for demography and democracy, Dubravka Šuica, who rejected the new French model for EU's enlargement because "there is enough space in the actual treaty".

"Once we promise, we need to deliver," said Šuica, who also raised the question of whether unanimity should be a requirement in the council for EU's enlargement.

Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenkovic said at the EPP meeting that the criteria for becoming a member are currently very detailed and tough in the treaties, adding that "any European country has the right to seek membership."

'Critical period'

However, Merkel said after meeting with Plenkovic that discussions with France over the EU's enlargement process were necessary.

"There still has to be a realistic perspective of membership for the countries of the Western Balkans," she said.

Croatia will hold its first EU's presidency from January to June 2020, with EU enlargement high on the agenda.

The Croatian presidency will be in charge of organising the EU-Western Balkans Summit in May, which will determine political and institutional relations in the region for the next decade, Plenković said.

Tusk expressed on Tuesday confidence in Croatia's presidency, adding that the presidency of the youngest EU member state will come at a "critical period" for the 28-nation bloc, since Brexit and the EU's budgetary negotiations will take place then.

"I deeply believe that [Croatia] will do everything in your power to restore EU unity and enlargement while demonstrating positive EU engagement in the region," Tusk said, adding that he believes that the outcome of the EU-Western Balkans Summit can be a success.

"I am leaving the EU in good hands," he added.

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