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EU and Western Balkans: twenty years of hopes and dreams

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EU and Western Balkans: twenty years of hopes and dreams

European Union leaders and their counterparts from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia pose for a family photo during the EU-Western Balkans summit in Tirana, Albania , December 6, 2022. (Florion Goga/Reuters)

June 21 marks the 20th anniversary of the EU-Western Balkans summit in Thessaloniki, Greece. At this historic event, the European Union and the acceding and potential candidate countries of the Western Balkans made a commitment to each other. The EU is committed to the European perspective of the Western Balkans, while the countries of the region have subscribed to the common values ​​of democracy, rule of law, respect for human and minority rights, solidarity and market economy. The summit conclusions remain an ongoing commitment for all of us – the EU and its member states, including Slovenia, and the Western Balkans.

Slovenia highly appreciates this summit, as it gave new hope for the stabilization of the region after years of wars, political instability and economic stagnation following the dissolution of Yugoslavia. It brought to life the dream of a European future that would bring positive change: increased prosperity, improved connectivity and strengthened people-to-people contacts.

Over the past 20 years, much has been achieved through cooperation. The Western Balkans have experienced general stability. Countries in the region now benefit from a visa-free regime and the region has seen steady economic progress since then. The EU is by far the largest donor and investor in the region, as it naturally looks to the Western Balkans, and vice versa. Slovenia is a strong supporter of the enlargement of the European Union. We have helped our partners in the Western Balkans by providing them with political support and supporting enlargement-related processes in the region. We helped in every way possible. This is our long-term policy which will not change.

However, it is no secret: many opportunities were missed on both sides. It seems that the initial enthusiasm for reforms in the Western Balkans has partly evaporated over the past two decades and, as a result, the light at the end of the tunnel pointing to EU membership appears to be further away than we are we had hoped. this point. However, the EU faces its own challenges and enlargement has not always been a priority. The European Union is now forced to deal with the consequences of the war in Ukraine, which has led us to rethink our approach to the EU enlargement process in general. We think it is clear that the enlargement process is fundamentally a strategic choice and not just a technical exercise. Nevertheless, continued enlargement must follow the fundamental vision of the European integration process, which is based on solidarity and real progress of the candidate countries. Courageous political decisions are necessary.

Further enlargement must follow the fundamental vision of the European integration process, which is based on the solidarity and real progress of the candidate countries.

Our messages to the region, Europe and the world are clear. Firstly, the EU is objectively a very good choice for the region, but it is up to the Western Balkan countries to decide their future. Second, Slovenia has no selfish interests in the region. Our policy is motivated by solidarity with the countries and people of the Western Balkans. Slovenia wants what its people want: stability and security as a prerequisite for prosperity and economic progress.

Western Balkan countries aspiring to join the EU can count on Slovenia now and in the future.

Dr Natasa Pirc Musar is President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr Robert Golob is the Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia and Tanja Fajon is the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia.

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