Austrian Minister for European Affairs Karoline Edtstadler and Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg aim to further advance the integration of the Western Balkan states into the European Union.
Recently, they sent concrete proposals through a letter and a “non-document” to the External Relations of the European Union, Josep Borell, and to the Commissioner for Enlargement, Oliver Varhelyi, SchengenVisaInfo.com reports.
The main objective of these proposals is to accelerate the enlargement process and also to clarify the agenda for 2024 and beyond.
Since Ukraine was granted EU candidate status, concern has increased that Western Balkan states could be marginalized within the EU’s expansion strategy. Balkan countries such as Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have been waiting for many years to join the EU.
Among the key elements of these proposals is an action plan revealing the successive integration of the Western Balkan states by 2024, according to the ORF report.
In addition, additional financial support must be provided through an improved incentive system. It is also proposed to invite Western Balkan countries to informal meetings of the Council. Accession negotiations with the Western Balkan countries – Serbia, Albania, Montenegro and North Macedonia – are ongoing, with Bosnia and Herzegovina only having candidate status.
According to the report, Kosovo has made the least progress in European integration. Kosovo officially applied for EU membership on December 14 last year.
Furthermore, Foreign Minister Schallenberg announced the creation of a core group within the EU, comprising Austria, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia as well as the Czech Republic , according to DiePresse. The group, known as “Friends of the Western Balkans,” aims to strengthen ties between Western Balkan countries and the EU even before they become part of the bloc.
Earlier this year, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó reiterated his calls for the EU to speed up the integration process of Western Balkan countries.
The minister viewed the EU’s continued enlargement as a positive step that would further strengthen the bloc and help EU countries better manage migration issues, which are among the most discussed.
At the EU-Western Balkans summit held in Tirana in December last year, EU leaders reaffirmed their full commitment to the Western Balkans joining the EU perspective.
At the EU-Western Balkans Summit, leaders notably called for acceleration of the accession process of Western Balkan states and for rational reforms as well as fair conditionality.