It is supposed to be a historic summit, at which Ukraine’s path towards the EU is to be paved. Still, there is bad vibes. The countries of the Western Balkans feel alienated.
The European Union has dashed the hopes of six Balkan states to move forward on their EU path. “I can only express my deepest regrets to the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama on Thursday after an EU-Western Balkans meeting in Brussels.
“Not even a war in Europe, which could turn into a global catastrophe, was able to bring about their unity.”
Chancellor Olaf Scholz went to the meeting with the aim of bringing new impetus to the deadlocked accession process. Countries like North Macedonia and Albania have been waiting for EU membership for almost 20 years, said the SPD politician. “In my view, it is of the utmost importance that this is now a credible promise.”
But this promise did not materialize – instead, disillusionment spread, especially on the part of the Balkan states. “We expressed our disappointment with the dynamics of the enlargement process,” said North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski. 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.
Blocked by Bulgarian veto
One of the reasons for this is that the EU country Bulgaria is blocking the start of negotiations with North Macedonia. Among other things, Sofia demands that the smaller neighboring country respond to demands regarding minorities, history and language. Due to the Bulgarian veto, the process of negotiations with Albania does not start either. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are not even official candidate countries.
Albania’s Prime Minister Rama described the blockade of Bulgaria as a “disgrace”. “One NATO country – Bulgaria – is holding two other NATO countries – Albania and North Macedonia – hostage in the midst of a hot war in Europe,” he said. “And the others watch in their impotence.” How bad the mood is was already apparent before the summit. Because of the Bulgarian blockade, the heads of state and government of Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia kept a summit boycott open until midday on Wednesday – but then decided against it.
EU circles said that the top priority was to begin accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia without delay. It is being worked on with the utmost urgency to solve the problems. The European perspective of the countries had been clearly and unequivocally confirmed at the meeting.
The situation in Bulgaria itself makes things even more confusing. Parliament there voted no confidence in Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and his pro-Western government on Wednesday evening. At the same time, a proposal from the French EU Council Presidency, which is intended to mediate between Bulgaria and North Macedonia, is before Parliament.
According to Petkov, the parliament will make a decision on this “in the coming days”. At first it was unclear whether there was a majority for the proposal. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte spoke of a 50 to 60 percent chance of a breakthrough in the coming week.
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 EU efforts of 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. A decision on status must be unanimous among 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.