EU statement does not allow anyone’s proposals for steps back in WB6 enlargement process

EU statement does not allow anyone’s proposals for steps back in WB6 enlargement process

The statement signed at the Brdo Summit by European leaders with the EU pledging support to the 6 Western Balkan countries (WB6) in their European perspective has been the most optimal result that could be achieved at this time. So says Maja Bucar, a professor at the University of Ljubljana and an expert on EU policies.

In an interview for KosovaPress, expert Bucar says that disagreements between EU member states over the enlargement of the bloc, the situation created by Brexit, and even Poland and Hungary are some of the reasons why that the European Union during the Brdo summit did not give a deadline to the countries of the Western Balkans for the possibility of membership.

Interviewed by: Fadil Miftari
KosovaPress: The EU Summit for the Western Balkans held in your country, in Brdo, Slovenia, I conclude with a statement by European leaders on the EU commitment in support of the European perspective of the Western Balkans. It seems to the leaders of the Western Balkan countries that it was a deja vu, something they have heard for years. As a good knower of EU policies, do you think that such repeated statements do not give courage to the Balkan countries.

Bucar: In view of the current situation in the EU member states I think such a statement is the optimal possible outcome at this time. At least the commitment is there, in spite of several members who are hesitant to discuss enlargement. Due to several inside turbulences, starting with Brexit, issues with Poland and Hungary, different opinions on several crucial EU policies among the member states, the approach of some member countries is that we first need to work on internal coherence, prior to adding new members to the group.


KosovaPress: A statement signed at the European Union-Western Balkans summit confirmed that European integration is a “common strategic interest and choice”, while the EU stressed that it would “further intensify engagement” in order for the region to experience transformation – political, economic and social, but no specific date was mentioned for how long these countries can wait for membership. From your point of view, why is not a date mentioned?

Bucar: Setting a date was the ambition of the Slovenian presidency, yet in view of all the arguments I specified above, it was not possible to reach a consensus on this. In my view, this is a pity, since it allows for continuous postponement of the enlargement and thus also allows for the postponement of the needed reforms in Western Balkan.


KosovaPress: Although the text of the statement is a strong signal that enlargement is still ongoing and that it will happen. Given the reservations of some bloc member countries about the enlargement process (especially France, Netherlands and Bulgaria in the case of Northern Macedonia), how serious can this commitment be on the part of the European Union?

Bucar: The very fact that France will be the next country taking over the presidency of the European Council, the statement is important- at least no step back from the enlargement can be proposed by them. I believe that at the moment the text is optimal possible statement one could get across all the member states. The bottom line is that there was no clear opposition or very strong conditionality, in fact unofficially there were several criticisms of the stance of Bulgaria and even Croatia for putting their, in fact bilateral issues on the table.


KosovaPress: Let us return once again to the second question, about not giving a deadline by which the 6 countries of the Western Balkans should complete their tasks for membership in the Bloc. Do you think that part of the European Union can not predict how fast countries will progress on the road to the EU.

Bucar: It isn’t just how quick the reforms will progress on the WB, but also how will the internal issues evolve. The lessons of the “Big Bang”- the previous round of the enlargement are for the older members that it is not so easy to adjust to EU policies and regulations. In my view, the WB is just as much a victim of relatively slow reforms at home, as a victim of several disputes which are happening between th member states themselves. Events like the ruling of the Polish Constitutional Court on the supremacy of national constitution over the EU law certainly do not help enlargement process.


KosovaPress: Slovenia’s proposal as a host country for the membership of the 6 Western Balkan countries to take place in 2030 has not received support for approval. I am interested to know from your point of view, is this related to the non-recognition of Kosovo by the five EU member states.

Bucar: Non-recognition is just one of the factors, but far from being the only one. As it often happens in politics, one looks for a reason to not commit oneself in different areas/ policies, strategic interests and so do these five countries.


KosovaPress: There seems to be a skepticism between the two sides, so on the one hand the Bloc seems to be skeptical of the profound reforms that the Western Balkan states can achieve and on the other hand ËB6 is losing patience and there are states that have signaled a bid largest with China and Russia. How can the mistrust between the two parties be overcome?

Bucar: More cooperation between the EU member states and WB states is crucial to lower the mistrust. There are many open fields where cooperation can be further strengthened: economic relations, cooperation in science, in the field of environment protection and climate change, cultural cooperation, etc. This can have a two-fold effect: it improves the knowledge of the Western Balkan states in the EU as well as shows the benefits of following EU policies to the local population, which consequently may have a more positive view also of the reforms expected by the EU.


KosovaPress: At a summit where his idea was the commitment of all parties to the European perspective of the Western Balkans, the president of Serbia said, “Even while on the European path, Serbia must take care of itself and its relations with Russia and “China and no one has the right to blame us for wanting to live and survive”, do you think that the EU will one day ask Serbia for a clear definition, that is, to end the game of balance between East and West?

Bucar: No one, not China or Russia or EU is coming to the Western Balkan countries without own agenda. European perspective is maybe most clear, since the values and policies of the EU are clearly spelled out and the WB countries need only to look at the last enlargement and see, what has happened to the newer member states in terms of their economic growth, benefits from structural policies, etc. The increased presence of China or Russia will not be with no strings attached and this is something also Serbian prime minister needs to bear in mind.

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