EU Knocks Again On Western Balkan’s Door

Image by Danlaycock

Everyone knows the tale of Mother Goat and her three kids, who she warns not to open the door to the bad Wolf when she is out. But the wolf is clever and, disguised as goat, knocks again and again on their door. But the goat’s kids know his tricks now and it becomes hard for the Wolf to further deceive them. Anyway, the tale has a happy ending, otherwise the children could not fall asleep easily.

Well, to come back to reality…

I am not really sure why the European Commission Chief’s Tour of this week in the Western Balkans reminded me of the above tale…

I reckon, it is the effect such visits produce, hearing the same bell ring for years now, or maybe the fact that they appear to be a copy paste of one another, regardless of who the guests are, as they speak the same word for word English every time they are hosted with increasing welcome by the Balkan States. Then they leave, and what is piled behind is only the feeling of insecurity and false hopes.

The Head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker started his tour of the Western Balkans at the beginning of this week, going to Macedonia and Albania first, then to Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina…ending up in Bulgaria, which has its turn for leading the EU Presidency.

During the whole tour, Juncker sounded convinced of what he was lecturing, although he had to make several corrections of what was pronounced before and after these visits. For instance, Juncker made a different interpretation of what was stated in the WB Strategy in earlier February, regarding the possible EU accession of Serbia and Montenegro by 2025. This time he denied that these 2 countries would necessarily be members by then, though considered as forerunners; he stated 2025 entry will be possible for all WB countries, provided they speed up with their homework. Every effort on the part of the six countries will be recognized by EU.

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Juncker appraised both Albania and Macedonia efforts so far. He said both countries are expected to see a green light by June, after Macedonia finds a solution to its name dispute with Greece and Albania continues its fight against corruption and organized crime and deepens vetting reform in the judicial system.

So the same old endless issues were once more repeated…

During his visit in Albania, he seemed to recognize some of those few progressive steps in this direction, when PM Rama reported that the vetting process is producing its first results, as 17 judges and prosecutors have been left out of the judiciary. Juncker acknowledged that Albania has negotiated one or two chapters, but the EU verdict will have to wait until spring, after they get the Italian air-monitoring report of the drug situation in the country. But, after ending his tour, he stated for Deutsche Welle that negotiations with Albania will open only if the country fights against money laundering, a fact that was not mentioned during his press conference in Tirana.

So, it seems that what is publicly said, not always accounts for what is discussed within closed doors.

In Serbia and Montenegro Juncker repeated that these two countries’ progress towards EU accession is impressive, as they have already covered most steps, but the key issue for Serbia is the normalization deal with Kosovo. Both Serbia and Kosovo should define the nature of the required binding agreement that should regulate full normalization. So, it seems Serbia and Montenegro are more ready to join the EU earlier. What was stated in the WB Strategy was all right, though denied during the tour.

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But Serbia has always been clear about vowing against Kosovo recognition, mentioning the fact that there are 5 other EU members, like Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia, not recognizing Kosovo. Why should they, then?

Ivica Dacic, Serbian Foreign Minister has opposed the EU acknowledgement of Kosovo, saying ”they want Belgrade to perform a historic hara-kiri…”, while President Vucic is ready to find a compromise with Pristina, in which both countries might lose something. If that is not possible, they will be living in the past, according to Vucic.
But Kosovo is determined not to make compromises to its own detriment. So, it seems no one is going to withdraw from their own position. But, how would the EU justify Serbia accession, if Belgrade is determined not to solve its main problem with Kosovo?

Juncker, together with the two higher EU officials, Hahn and Mogherini, have always pronounced the fact that history has divided the Western Balkans from Western Europe for a long time and they should not lose any more time. In the wrap-up meeting of 1 March in Sofia that marked the end of WB tour, European Commission and European Union officials addressed again the Western Balkan problematics, but in a harsher way, compared to what they did during the visits. “EU is not a club of economic powers out to enrich themselves, but a community of values, based on constitutional state, human rights and press freedom. We are not lecturing to WB countries, but we can not import border conflicts to EU”, was stated in Sofia.

When asked about his tour, referring to two of the countries, Juncker said Macedonia understood the EC point of view, but Albania not that much. He hinted there have been a lot of misunderstandings, as the country is not yet negotiating until the April recommendations, leaving again controversial feelings among Albanians.

The WB tour, in fact, aimed more to convince the six countries that the EU has renewed its interests in the region, rather than to produce concrete outcome, after so many years of negotiations.

Of course, the tour served the EU most, to show its counterparts, Russia, China, Turkey, they need to keep their hands off the Balkans…more than to ensure the WB countries that there is a green light for everyone in the near future.

The Western Balkans seem to be on the EU doorstep, though historically they are so far away. People’s expectations are decreasing with every passing visit of EU officials that sound more like chatterboxes, doubtly to lend an ear.

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