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Forum calls for accelerating Balkan integration into EU, after Brussels supports Ukraine’s candidacy

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Speakers at the event said that the accession processes of Ukraine and the Western Balkan countries to the EU depend on each other.


A forum has urged the European Union (EU) to accelerate the integration of the Western Balkans into the bloc, following Brussels’ decision to support Ukraine’s candidacy THURSDAY.

The Prespa Forum, attended by heads of state, government and diplomats from the Western Balkans and the EU, took place on Friday in Ohrid, North Macedonia.

One of the main topics on the agenda was how to improve the EU’s ties with the Western Balkan countries and Ukraine.

Many speakers at the event said that while granting Ukraine candidate status was “a significant signal”, it must be accompanied by concrete results in the EU’s enlargement process to Western Balkans.

“All countries seeking expansion are on one page,” said Manuel Sarrazin, Germany’s special envoy for the Western Balkans. “The credibility of enlargement towards Ukraine, towards Moldova, towards the Western Balkans is the same.”

He also asserted that the integration processes of the Western Balkans and Ukraine were deeply linked.

“If Ukrainians see that even in the case of a small country like Montenegro, the EU is not willing to move forward… what does that mean for a big country like Montenegro? Ukraine?

“If the Western Balkan countries see that a country at war like Ukraine is not in a special situation when it comes to enlargement, then anyone will have a perspective of European enlargement,” he added.

Current EU candidate countries in the Western Balkans include North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Serbia. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are also potential candidates.

Brussels has not yet set a specific deadline for when or whether these countries will join the bloc, although it has said the EU is committed to expanding the region.

Most Western Balkan states began EU membership negotiations in the mid-to-late 2000s: North Macedonia applied in 2004, Albania in 2009, Montenegro in 2008, Serbia in 2009 and Bosnia in 2016.

Speaking at Friday’s forum, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said the Western Balkans must be integrated into the EU to improve their overall progress, alongside neighborhood relations in the conflict-ridden region.

His remarks were followed by a speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

He called for a strong and consolidated EU, saying that “there is no longer a single country in Europe that has not suffered from at least one of the manifestations of Russian anti-European policy.”

The European Commission on Thursday officially backed Ukraine and Moldova’s EU candidacy, although EU leaders will have the final say at a summit on June 23-24.

“I think it’s a good initiative,” said Borut Pahor, President of Slovenia, referring to Ukraine’s bid for EU membership. “I support him (along with) nine other EU presidents.

“But I have also just sent an official letter to the President of the Council, Charles Michel, so that Bosnia and Herzegovina receives the same,” he added.

Bosnia has been considered a potential candidate for EU membership since 2003.


But, according to a European Parliament briefing note, “internal political instability and a lack of political reforms have hampered the country’s chances of joining the EU.”

In a press release from the president’s office, Pahor asserted that granting Bosnia candidate status would strengthen pro-European forces in the country and accelerate the country’s embrace of European values, thus countering a trend toward Euroscepticism.

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