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The Western Balkans, divided between hope and indignation – Euractiv

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EU enlargement has become a “hot potato” for Brussels and for the member states. EURACTIV raised the issue in a debate on Tuesday (5 June), during which diplomats and journalists spoke freely about the perceived reluctance of some member states to admit new countries, as well as existing internal obstacles.

In 2025, Montenegro could be ready to knock on the door of EU membership, twelve years after the accession of the last new member, Croatia. As a leader in the race for European integration in the Western Balkans, the country has opened all but one of the 35 negotiating chapters. Three chapters have been provisionally closed to date and the others are in progress.

But despite Montenegro’s performance among the six-country bloc, EURACTIV editor-in-chief Georgi Gotev questioned whether the EU would reciprocate.

Montenegrin Ambassador to the EU Bojan Šarkić, gave an honest answer: “First of all, it is more or less clear that there will be no enlargement within this Commission,” he said, referring to what the president of the Commission Jean-Claude Junker warned when he took office.

Šarkić then questioned the EU’s restraint, despite Commissioner Johannes Hahn’s comments on a “reinvigorated enlargement agenda” in recent days.

“Why does no one want to touch enlargement, which has been the EU’s most successful policy? This is completely ridiculous. It insults the intelligence of everyone around us,” Šarkić said.

European officials often say enlargement has been one of the EU’s greatest successes, but capitals keep it on hold.

For the first time, no opening of new chapters was recommended for Montenegro in the Commission’s latest annual report, considered more negative than in previous years. Gaps in media freedom, the fight against corruption and human trafficking were highlighted as top priorities that must be addressed.

And only two months ago, the capital Podgorica experienced weeks of demonstrations against the country’s powerful long-time leader, Milo Djukanović, demanding that his government resign over allegations of corruption and cronyism.

Ambassador Šarkić said his country’s preference was clearly individual membership based on its own merits, rather than “blanket membership” with other countries in the region. He also questioned the EU’s policy of integrating the Western Balkans through economic cooperation, rather than integrating them into the EU.

“Why should we set up common structures between the Western Balkan countries and only then join the EU? We had them in Yugoslavia and now we’re supposed to come back? This has absolutely no logic,” the diplomat said.

But Montenegro is not alone in expressing its anger at the EU’s apparent coldness towards the Balkans. Its former federal partner and neighbor less enthusiastic about Euro-Atlantic relations, Serbia, willingly joined.

“It is a bit strange that from four chapters opened by presidency, we arrive at only one chapter,” said the first secretary of the Serbian mission to the EU, Danijel Apostolović, at the audience.

He explained: “We hope to open two chapters at the next Intergovernmental Conference, but it seems that some member states are not very happy to give the green light. It looks like there will only be one (open chapter).

The Commission’s progress report on Serbia is hardly encouraging either. Judicial independence, corruption, organized crime and media freedom are among the EU’s main concerns, problems that are repeated across the region.

But it seems that Serbia and the EU executive have different views on the speed of reforms in the country: “We have brought forward the latest batch of reforms, even if the latest report from the European Commission does not recognize this out of hand. the way we want it to be recognized. », declared the Serbian diplomat, who doubts that his country will manage to cross the threshold of accession in 2025.

North Macedonia and Albania both received a nod from the EU executive to open accession negotiations and catch up with their northern neighbors. However, Albania seems to be the black sheep of the duo.

EU diplomats told EURACTIV that there could be pressure on the Commission to possibly dissociate the two and say “we do not think Albania is ready to open negotiations at this stage”, while recognizing the need to reward North Macedonia’s “great progress”. did.

The Netherlands, in particular, is ready to give Albania a hard time and is already seeking to suspend the country’s visa-free regime over fears that its mafia will travel freely across the EU .

Albania has also been tormented for months by street protests and a parliamentary opposition rebelling against a socialist government accused of corruption. The political crisis could have repercussions on the Council decision expected at the end of June.

“I know the political situation is not good, but there are many young people in Albania who dream of studying and working in the EU. I hope that the Council will give a positive opinion for us and for North Macedonia. Otherwise, people will lose their hope and dream of the EU,” noted Uarda Celami, advisor at the Mission of Albania to the EU.

Bosnia-Herzegovina, the latest candidate for membership in the European club, has also recognized its internal problems.

The EU has in the past discouraged Bosnia and Herzegovina from applying for membership because it doubted whether the country’s three ethnic communities could actually commit to living together.

“We have had some internal difficulties, but we hope that with the help of the EU we can overcome them and move towards the EU,” Mitar Kujundzić, Minister-Counsellor of the Representation of the European Union, told the audience. Bosnia to the EU.

The Commission last week published its “Opinion”or opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s candidacy, identifying 14 key priorities that the country must address and providing a roadmap for reforms.

“After the publication of the notice, activities are already underway in our country regarding the implementation plan of the recommendations,” he said.

(Editing by Georgi Gotev and Zoran Radosavljevic)

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