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EU’s Balkan strategy losing local support, internal paper warns

The European Union must recognize that Balkan countries seeking membership are losing faith in Brussels’ long accession strategy, worsened by its initial failure to provide Covid-19 vaccines, according to an internal EU document seen by Reuters.

Europe and the United States say that Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia will one day become members of the club of 27 states, following the ethnic wars of the 1990s that led to the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

But China and Russia, whose trade and investment levels in the Balkans are far less than the EU’s, are gaining influence, outsmarting the bloc by offering Covid-19 vaccines quickly during the pandemic.

“We need to acknowledge that despite the steadfast commitment to EU integration … the people in the region are experiencing a sense of deep disappointment in the enlargement process,” said the May 5 paper by EU officials and sent to EU’s 27 foreign ministries.

“A perception of tardy EU delivery of the Covid-19 vaccines has further fed a narrative of disillusionment,” said the paper, which was prepared for Monday’s meeting of foreign ministers, who discussed the Balkans but did not take formal decisions.

After years of EU neglect of the region, Croatia organized an EU summit in May 2020 to give new impetus to Balkan integration. North Macedonia and Albania were meant to launch membership talks at the end of the last year.

But Bulgaria refuses to allow North Macedonia to move ahead, citing language and cultural disputes.

France held up proceedings in 2019 with skepticism over Albanian and North Macedonian efforts on democracy and fighting corruption.

The European Commission, the EU executive, insists Albania and North Macedonia must move forward together. However, a suggestion by EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi this month – later withdrawn – that only Albania should start entry talks, added to a sense of disarray, EU diplomats said.

EU ministers were unable to break the deadlock at a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday.

Membership talks with Serbia and Montenegro, the pair seen as furthest ahead in the accession process, have also slowed, while Bosnia and Kosovo have yet to be formally designated as EU membership candidates.

“The widespread perception in the Western Balkans is that the prospect of accession is receding and that European inspirations are lost under a complex set of conditions and procedures,” the internal report said.

The bloc is now sending 650,000 doses of Western-made vaccines to the six Balkan countries, but only after China and Russia distributed millions of their doses in the region. [Reuters]

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One comment

  1. Well, the EU left the Western Balkans to itself for a long time, thinking that people and countries there were willing to wait forever to join. Then others came to play, like they always do in the WB. China, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the US play their geopolitical games. And then one morning the EU saw that other countries filled the void the EU left. It didn’t help much either that countries such as the UK, the US and Germany played a big role in the violent breakup of Yugoslavia. The European Community at the time tried to avoid civil war but other countries again played their own geopolitical games. It resulted that the WB is living in a constant period of economic crisis for the last 30 years. If people don’t see hope on the horizon because the EU shuts the door on them, people turn to others. It is especially worrying that young people are losing faith. They see how their parents are struggling as a result of the breakup of Yugoslavia for which some exclusively get all the blame and the ‘transition to the market economy’. The result is that people become apathetic and that people leave. The EU wasted 10 years at least.