Europe risks losing strategic clout in Western Balkans

Europe risks losing strategic clout in Western Balkans

Open letter is signed by ten former Prime Ministers, Deputy Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers of the EU and the Balkans calling on the European Union leadership not to delay the start of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. The letter highlights the risks to security and stability in the Western Balkans from the EU’s refusal to set a date for the start of accession negotiations for Albania and North Macedonia.

The Letter:

Trouble spots and tensions surrounding the European Union continue: Syria, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, Eastern Mediterranean. In the South of the European Union, an arc of geopolitical instability is being formed. We must not allow it to expand. Stability, democracy and prosperity in South East Europe is directly linked to the consolidation of the European project and the completion of the reunification of our continent with the accession of Western Balkan countries, a process that started 30 years ago.

The obstinate opposition to the opening of EU accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, despite the recommendation of the European Commission and the will of the vast majority of the EU Member States and European Parliament, has put the EU’s remaining influence on its own doorstep and its ability to shape strategic development and stability in South East Europe in jeopardy.

This is a strategic mistake that helps consolidating the status quo in Western Balkans and EU inertia in an increasingly messy geopolitical map. The European Union’s duty is to contribute to the stability and security of South East Europe. Therefore it should consider Western Balkans accession to EU as a responsible policy rather than a burden.

Moreover, the opposition to start the accession negotiations with above mentioned countries undermines the EU’s authority and credibility. For a region like the Western Balkans, which is struggling to strengthen rule of law and improve social and economic standards, membership process into EU remains indispensable. However, it is the psychological impact of such talks and the transformative effects that are important for these countries’ feeling of being anchored to the EU. And above all, it is the issue of trust: Back in 2003, in Thessaloniki Summit, EU leaders promised these countries membership.

Under the current circumstances, guarantees, given by the EU, to the countries of the region, will no longer matter. Therefore, it will become increasingly difficult to reach compromises, overcome bilateral disputes and unleash positive energy. This is a precursor to domestic troubles in North Macedonia and Albania, which have too long relied on EU to support them. It undermines the negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo and strengthens the centrifugal forces in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

EU accession process in the Western Balkans is also a state building process and by the same token a stabilizing process for the whole region. It is the key strategy for exercising EU’s global political influence.

We call upon EU to overcome divisions on this point. The accession process will go on for many years during which there will be enough time to reconcile the need for the EU’s further integration with the need for keeping the European perspective for Western Balkan countries alive.

The EU should assume its responsibilities by acting in a strategic manner. It is high time for the EU to overview with creativity and to put inperspective its role within the new international environment, so as to act independently in this environment and to enhance its foreign policy and defense capabilities.

Therefore, the opening of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, on the basis of their commitments, is imperative and should be agreed upon at the next EU Summit. At the same time, we call upon EU to present new instrument in the upcoming Zagreb Summit that will consolidate the EU accession path of Western Balkan countries.

Signatures:

Igor Luksic, Former PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Montenegro.

Sigmar Gabriel, Former Vice Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Germany.

Vesna Pusic, Former Deputy PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Croatia.

Nikola Poposki, Former Deputy PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs, North Macedonia.

Nikolaos Kotzias, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Greece.

Karin Kneissl, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Austria.

Ioannis Kasoulides, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cyprus.

Ditmir Bushati, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Albania.

Kristian Vigenin, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bulgaria.

Goran Svilanovic, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia./ibna