For a long time, little progress has been made on the Western Balkan countries’ intended accession to the EU. Chancellor Scholz has made it his task to get the process going again. But discordant noises overshadow a joint summit in Brussels.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz wants to bring new impetus to the deadlocked EU accession process for six Balkan countries.
Countries like North Macedonia and Albania have been waiting to join the European Union for almost 20 years, the SPD politician said before an EU-Western Balkans meeting in Brussels. “In my view, it is of the utmost importance that this is now a credible promise.” In Brussels, the Western Balkan countries were frustrated by the lack of progress.
Albania’s Prime Minister: “Shame”
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama described the blockade of accession talks with North Macedonia and his country by EU member Bulgaria as a “disgrace”. “A NATO country – Bulgaria – is holding two other NATO countries – Albania and North Macedonia – hostage amid a hot war in Europe,” Rama said. “And the others watch in their impotence.” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also said he couldn’t hide his disappointment. The blockade shows once again that the principle of unanimity in the EU is a big problem.
The bad mood had already become apparent before the summit. The heads of state and government of Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia kept open a summit boycott until Wednesday afternoon because of the Bulgarian blockade.
Bulgaria blocks the start of negotiations
In 2003, the EU held out the prospect of Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo joining the EU. However, the process is now deadlocked. For example, Bulgaria is blocking the start of negotiations with North Macedonia. The reason is, among other things, the desire that the smaller neighboring country respond to demands with regard to minorities, history and language. Albania is also waiting for negotiations to start. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are not even official candidate countries.
France, which holds the EU Council Presidency until the end of June, wants to end the Bulgarian blockade. A proposal from the French EU Council Presidency is before the parliament in Sofia. According to Prime Minister Kirill Petkov, a vote on this should only take place after a responsible parliamentary committee has made a decision. It was only on Wednesday evening that parliament voted no confidence in the pro-Western Petkov, thereby overthrowing his coalition government. At first it was unclear whether there was a majority for the French proposal. Petkov said before the EU summit that he hoped that Parliament would make a decision “in the coming days”.
Scholz wants to revive EU membership promises
Chancellor Scholz has made it his task to get all six countries moving closer to the EU again. “Germany will support the activities of the western Balkan states on their way to the European Union. We feel responsible for ensuring that these countries succeed in their efforts,” he said. The many efforts made by these states should result in accession.
Candidate status likely for Ukraine and Moldova
The EU efforts on Ukraine, which has been attacked by Russia, seem to be progressing much faster. At a regular EU summit on Thursday afternoon, the heads of state and government wanted to decide whether Ukraine and the small neighboring country of Moldova would be granted EU candidate status. EU Council President Charles Michel was optimistic. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo spoke of a historic moment, but also pointed out that the accession process would take a long time. Albania’s head of government, Rama, recommended that Ukraine not have high expectations, even as an EU candidate. “It is good to award candidate status. But I hope that the Ukrainian people will not have too many illusions about it.”
A decision on candidate status must be made unanimously by all 27 states. Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia applied for EU membership shortly after the start of the Russian war against Ukraine. Georgia is unlikely to become an EU candidate until it completes further reforms.