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Border disputes, corruption and organized crime: EU enlargement is bleeding

The current conference was preceded by high expectations from the six countries in the Western Balkans, especially in light of the fact that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen sent a positive message about membership to Albania, for example, in the weeks leading up to the meeting, saying that the country’s future in the European Union is at home. It is up to Brussels to begin accession negotiations with Tirana, which it hopes will kick off by the end of the year.

However, the text of the final statement issued relates more to the fact that the EU does not intend to expand the scope of its member states for some time to come.

According to the official text, the European Union is committed to the process of enlargement to the Western Balkans, but it is still in place He believes that it is important for the countries that make up the region to pursue political and economic reforms.

However, the statement did not even specify a target date for this, although many had previously projected a target for 2030.

Although the meeting participants agreed to hold a summit next year in this round and to hold regular consultations between the EU and the Western Balkans at the summit, many were unhappy with the results. WLmessenger Von der Leyen also said that it would also destroy the EU’s credibility if it did not move forward as soon as possible.

What is stopping you from joining?

Joining the European Union is, in essence, a very complex process, with 35 “chapters” checked to see if the applicant’s country has met the requirements for accession. Although the six Western Balkan countries are in the process of joining It’s in different stagesAlmost all of them have been aspiring to EU membership for years.

North Macedonia formally applied to join the European Union in 2004, but the accession process did not progress for many years.Where Greece prevented the Balkan country from joining a number of international organizations such as the European Union and NATO. This is due to a dispute over the name, in which the Greeks objected to the name “Republic of Macedonia”, claiming that the name of a province in northern Greece was Macedonia. Thus the country was known for many years as the somewhat exhausted former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

A breakthrough occurred only in 2019, when the country’s name was changed to North Macedonia as a result of protracted negotiations with the Greeks.

Although this seemed for a long time to have removed most of the obstacles to trying to join, Recently, Bulgaria began to prevent entry to North Macedonia, which is based mainly on reasons related to linguistic and national identity. Bulgaria makes the lifting of the veto conditional on North Macedonia recognizing the Bulgarian roots of its official language.

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Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, Charles Michel, European Council and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will hold a press conference at the EU and Western Balkans Summit at the Brdo Convention Center near Kranj, Slovenia, on October 6. 2021. Photo: MTI/EPA/Igor Kupljenik
  • The situation in Albania is also not the easiest, because border disputes are the main problem in their case Greece, but there is a more serious reason for the lack of significant progress in the country’s accession process. The The issue of Albania’s accession with North Macedonia is being addressed, so the Bulgarian veto also ruled out the possibility, and the decision required the unanimous consent of EU members.
  • The case of Bosnia is also very complex, and so far no constructive cooperation has been established between the main ethnic groups within the multi-ethnic Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats betweenAnd there is no indication that this is changing.
  • Montenegro is in a better position than the above-mentioned countries, because fundamental border disputes do not prevent entry, However, the alarming level of corruption, organized crime and the country’s economic situation will certainly not allow it to join in for some time to come.
  • However, the biggest problem is the situation of Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo, with an Albanian majority, unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, which Belgrade has not recognized since. They are not alone in this, only that Within the European Union, five countries, namely Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain, do not recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state.This makes attempts to join unpromising in the long term. Not to mention the recent conflict between Serbia and Kosovo where the Kosovar authorities began removing Serbian license plates from cars entering Kosovo, motorists had instead had to replace a temporary plate at the border. In response, Serbs in northern Kosovo prevented them from crossing the border between Kosovo and Serbia.

The eternal dilemma: deepening or expanding?

The current EU summit on the Western Balkans highlights once again the great old dilemma of society, which raises the issue of enlargement and deepening.

The EU was last enlarged with another member state in 2013, then in the form of Croatia, and since then The process of judging such experiments has slowed considerably, not least because the EU has in many cases been preoccupied with dealing with its own internal problems. Examples include Brexit, the often separate policy of Central and Eastern European countries, or the coronavirus pandemic and the consequent economic downturn.

For this reason, many countries, including France and the Netherlands, strongly oppose EU enlargement, arguing that the EU has not been able to reach a dead end in discussions among its members, as evidenced by the case of Hungary and Poland over the rule of law.

It is worth mentioning at this point the name of French President Emmanuel Macron, who in recent years has drawn up ambitious plans for the future of the European Union, for example through a joint force or the idea of ​​a fiscal union, to achieve more federalism. Europe. In addition, France will assume the rotating presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2022, after which presidential elections will be held in the country. So it’s easy to see Presumably, Macron does not want to risk accepting the accession of Western Balkan countries.

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for Germany, Angela Merkel Although the words often support the integration of the Western Balkans, but always He pointed out that there is still a long way to go before obtaining the full membership of the countries concerned.

However, there are also members who are pushing hard for EU enlargement, not least because it will slow down the process of deepening integration, in which Hungary is currently an important player.

Oliver Varheli, European Commission member for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy (B) and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic at the EU and Western Balkans Summit at the Brdo Congress Center near Kranj, Slovenia, on October 6, 2021. Photo: MTI/AP/Darko Bandic

In the case of Hungary Of course, economic relations also have a lot of weight, but the fact that Budapest has been in conflict with Brussels on many issues for many years cannot be ignored. a Politico In addition, his recent article cites the name of the Hungarian Commissioner for EU Enlargement, Oliver Varheli, as the cause of many wrinkles within the EU. According to the information Varhely lobbied for the rule of law and human rights to be less important in EU candidate countriesThus, trying to soften, for example, Serbia’s accession to the European Union, whose president Aleksandar Vukisic maintains good relations with the Hungarian leadership, but received numerous criticism from other EU countries for the alleged breakdown of the rule of law. Varheli’s work was also criticized for not sufficiently supporting the pro-European accession of North Macedonia.

Both Russians and Chinese are in stock

The dilemma expressed above has been exacerbated by the increased presence and influence of Russia and China in the region in recent years, which has manifested itself mainly in the form of economic investment.

It is enough just to think of the railway line between Budapest and Belgrade, which is largely financed by Chinese loans. Amounts contracted in the form of loans represent a great value, UniCredit in April Analytics Bosnia and Herzegovina has 3.4% of GDP in 2020, 7% in Serbia (where the largest number of Chinese loan-financed programs are run within the group), 7.5% in North Macedonia and 20.7% in Montenegro.

When these loans are granted, it can generally be said that China does not really care about the economic situation of the country applying for the loan, so the conditions for obtaining the loan are very favorable, but almost not a single country is unable to pay the installments. A good example of this is Montenegro, one of the Western Balkan countries, which asked the European Union to help pay off highway loans from China, and the news that bond yields due in 2027 peaked at more than 5%, but the European Union did so . They don’t end up giving them a lifeline.

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Chinese and Russian influence has also emerged during the coronavirus epidemic, While the countries of the Western Balkans were excluded from the union’s joint procurement of vaccines, especially the Chinese Sinopharma or the Russian Sputnik vaccines.

That is why many fear that blocking the accession process will push these countries to embrace China and Russia.

For example, Serbian President Aleksandar Vukic considered it important as a result of the current EU decision To communicateThat his country made a very good decision to develop Sino-Russian relations, despite criticism from the European Union.

Despite all this, we must not forget that The European Union remains a very important player in the region and its increasing importance can also be seen in financing infrastructure investments, which can be ensured, for example, by the Western Balkans Development Plan adopted in October 2020. In this context, at the current EU Summit, Member States also pledged: in the next years 30 billion euros It helps the region with a plan to stimulate investment and the economyTo date, it has contributed €3.3 billion to the economic recovery and social measures required by the coronavirus pandemic.

These are all measures that could reduce the region’s exposure to Russia, China or even Turkey and, one day, embody the fact that the countries of the Western Balkans will also be full members of the European Union.

Thus, the door to accession is not completely closed to the member states, but has not been opened wide by the leaders of the union, as many expected.. The only question is to what extent the countries of the Western Balkans view the EU’s commitments as empty promises and, as a consequence, how close they are to other countries. It is still impossible to judge, but it can be argued that the EU remains confident that it will be the best narrative for the Western Balkans, even if its terms are difficult.

Cover photo source: MTI Photo/Prime Minister’s Press Office/Zoltán Fischer