Von der Leyen calls for the Western Balkan countries to take a stand

Western Balkans Summit in Tirana

Scholz and EU Commission President von der Leyen have been urging for months that because of the Russian attack on Ukraine and Russian influence in the Western Balkans too, the countries’ EU accession must be accelerated

(Photo: AP)

Tirane The process for EU accession of the six Western Balkan countries is to be accelerated. That is the result of the EU-Western Balkans summit in the Albanian capital Tirana on Tuesday. According to an approved declaration, the basis is “credible reforms by the partners as well as fair and strict conditionality”. In addition, it is demanded that the accession candidates should also adopt the principles of EU foreign policy.

The EU Commission should examine how the countries can be gradually integrated into EU programs during the accession process. Serbia and Kosovo are asked to settle their disputes. He hope that Bosnia Herzegovina will be given candidate status at the EU summit next week, said Chancellor Olf Scholz after the end of the summit. “That’s right, we want to take this process forward in that direction,” he said.

Russia’s escalating war of aggression against the Ukraine jeopardizes security in Europe and the world and underlines the importance of the strategic partnership between the EU and the Western Balkans region,” the “Tirana Declaration” stressed. It was also accepted by the Serbian government, which is considered pro-Russia. Serbia has EU sanctions against Russia not yet implemented. The country has traditionally maintained close ties with Moscow. Scholz emphasized that he had the impression that Serbia was also on a clear course towards the EU. But the differences remained.

Five Western Balkan States – Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – are currently in different phases of the EU accession process. Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, intends to apply by the end of the year. The summit was held in the region for the first time, which the Chancellor acknowledged as recognition of the progress made with reforms in Albania.

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Scholz and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have been urging for months that because of the Russian attack on Ukraine and Russian influence in the Western Balkans too, the countries’ EU admission must be speeded up. Pressure is also being created by the fact that the EU has meanwhile offered Ukraine membership – but the accession process with the Western Balkan countries has been going on for 19 years.

EU requires Western Balkan countries to position themselves against Russia

In recent years there have been repeated objections to the accession process being too fast, especially from the Netherlands, France, but most recently also Bulgaria. After speaking with French President Emmanuel Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Scholz said he believed positions had clearly moved in a positive direction.

Most recently, tensions between the governments in Belgrade and Pristina had flared up again, also because of the number plates for the Serb minority in Kosovo. Serbia is also under pressure from the EU states to join the EU sanctions against Russia, just like the other applicants for accession.

“It should matter whether you stand with Ukraine today or with Russia, and it should matter whether you impose sanctions on Russia or not,” said Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu . On the other hand, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic emphasized on his arrival at the summit: “Is Serbia too close to Russia? Serbia is an independent country.” Serbia is “on the way to the EU and will remain so”, but it also has to defend its own interests.

As a concrete step towards integration, telecom operators from the EU and the six heads of state and government of the Western Balkans signed an agreement on Tuesday morning to reduce data roaming charges from October 2023.

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