Representatives from the Western Balkans should join their EU counterparts more regularly for meetings to better align themselves with the bloc’s common foreign and security policy, according to a non-paper on “deeper cooperation” with the region. produced by a group of EU countries and consulted by Euractiv.
“We call on European institutions to present a clear agenda for gradual and accelerated integration with concrete implementation measures until 2024 and beyond,” wrote Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece , Italy, Slovakia and Slovenia in the document they circulated before the meeting. joint ministerial meeting with the six Western Balkan countries in Brussels.
The discussion paper was initiated by Austria, a strong supporter of enlargement, which has actively lobbied for similar measures before and launched the “Friends of the Western Balkans” group earlier this summer.
“Enhanced cooperation would make us more effective in confronting external pressures and countering Russian and other harmful narratives in the region that are incompatible with EU values and a rules-based international order,” the non-paper says. .
As the region faces foreign interference, disinformation and illegal immigration, EU ministers debate the need “to establish more regular and structured exchanges with our partners, in accordance with procedures and established EU policies”.
This would include an invitation to Western Balkans ministers to participate in formal and informal meetings of the EU Foreign Affairs Council “at least once every six months” and to countries’ ambassadors to participate in informal meetings with their Political Committee counterparts. and security (COPS) “on subjects of common interest at least once per semester.
The alignment of EU candidate countries with the bloc’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is one of the prerequisites for joining the bloc.
According to the document, the EU’s diplomatic service, the EEAS, could additionally “provide tailor-made services Lines to take (LTT) on request” to Western Balkans ministers before meetings with third countries to align positions with those of the EU.
The increased alignment effort would also be accompanied by “more regular and coordinated visits” to the region from the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell and more regular exchanges between diplomats and officials.
The discussion paper was published just before EU foreign ministers meet their counterparts from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia on Monday 13 November. and were to discuss the next steps in their alignment with the bloc’s foreign and security policy.
Euractiv understands that the idea has found widespread support in the region, with some of the six Western Balkans raising the issue publicly and privately over the past year.
Some Western Balkans ministers had previously expressed frustration at the shifting goalposts in the EU enlargement process and argued for gradually putting the region on a path to “gradual” integration – with access to the EU single market and in various policy areas such as energy or transport. – before effective membership of the bloc.
“We will have a separate meeting with the Western Balkans (Foreign Affairs) ministers in order to show the importance of this region, to discuss the recent enlargement proposals of the (European) Commission, to emphasize the need to follow up closer to our external relations. political,” declared the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell before the meeting.
“Some countries do not have a stellar record of aligning with our foreign policy and sanctions,” Borrell added.
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the EU’s imposition of eleven rounds of economic sanctions on Moscow, countries like Serbia and Turkey have so far resisted fully aligning with EU policy. block.
The EU-Western Balkans ministerial meeting comes a week after the European Commission published its annual reports on enlargement progress and weeks before EU leaders meet their counterparts in the region at a EU-Western Balkans summit in mid-December.
(Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic)