Western Balkan Nations Told to Work Harder to Join EU

Politics | February 16, 2018, Friday // 13:54| Views: | Comments: 0
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Bulgaria: Western Balkan Nations Told to Work Harder to Join EU Източник: pixabay

The European Union on Friday told six Western Balkan nations seeking membership that they would have to implement difficult reforms before they can be allowed to join the wealthy bloc, according to Reuters. 

Worried about growing Russian and Chinese influence in the Balkans, the EU has launched a new integration campaign, giving Serbia and Montenegro a tentative accession date of 2025.

But many EU members remain wary of letting in a region still scarred by wars fought along ethnic lines in the 1990s and dogged by a reputation for lawlessness.

They say the candidates - which also include Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia - must improve their democratic credentials and root out graft and organized crime.

“Everybody realizes that the conditions have to be met, that quality comes before speed, that the strategy is not an invitation to do away with conditionality,” the EU’s top enlargement official, Johannes Hahn, told a meeting of EU and Western Balkan foreign ministers in Bulgaria, which holds the bloc’s rotating six-month presidency.

REGIONAL DISPUTES

Germany leads the skeptics’ camp, highlighting continued problems with corruption and the rule of law in countries that have joined the EU since 2004, including Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

“It is important to move forward, but on both sides. We need to be open and we need to ask for a lot of reforms,” said Belgium’s Didier Reynders.

Regional disputes also hamper the accession process, with Serbia - and some EU member states - refusing to recognize the independence of Kosovo, and Macedonia still locked in a name dispute with its southern neighbor Greece.

Spain, where a standoff between the central government in Madrid and Catalan separatists has intensified in recent months, is among five EU states that do not recognize Kosovo.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said he hoped recent diplomatic efforts would soon lead to a compromise over his country’s name with Greece, which has been blocking Skopje’s EU bid. Greece says using the name ‘Macedonia’ implies a territorial claim on a northern Greek province of the same name.

“We are doing everything we can so that there be a political decision in June,” Dimitrov said, hoping the EU would agree to start membership negotiations then.

His Albanian colleague, Ditmir Bushati, said the region needed EU development money, not only advice on strengthening democracy.

“Rule of law comes first but there is no rule of law without economic development,” he said.

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Tags: European Union, EU, Western Balkans, membership, joining EU
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