Enlargement back on EU’s agenda at Western Balkans summit

Dec 4, 2022, 9:48 AM | Updated: Dec 5, 2022, 8:49 am
Municipal workers prepare to put up a portrait of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel as they de...

Municipal workers prepare to put up a portrait of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel as they decorate the Martyrs of the Nation boulevard with images of personalities who had a contribution to the advancement of the European Union, in Tirana, Albania, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. As the war in Ukraine has put the bloc's enlargement back at the top of the agenda, Albania hosts in Tirana leaders of the EU and the Western Balkans countries for a one-day summit aimed at reinvigorating the bloc's enlargement process. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

(AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

              Municipal workers prepare to put up a portrait of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel as they decorate the Martyrs of the Nation boulevard with images of personalities who had a contribution to the advancement of the European Union, in Tirana, Albania, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. As the war in Ukraine has put the bloc's enlargement back at the top of the agenda, Albania hosts in Tirana leaders of the EU and the Western Balkans countries for a one-day summit aimed at reinvigorating the bloc's enlargement process. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)
            
              People cross the Martyrs of the Nation boulevard, decorated with Albanian and EU flags as well as portraits of personalities who had a contribution to the advancement of the European Union, in Tirana, Albania, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. As the war in Ukraine has put the bloc's enlargement back at the top of the agenda, Albania hosts in Tirana leaders of the EU and the Western Balkans countries for a one-day summit aimed at reinvigorating the bloc's enlargement process. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)
            
              FILE - The European Union flag is projected on the National Library building in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on Oct. 12, 2022. The war in Ukraine has put the European Union's expansion at the top of the agenda as officials from the Western Balkans and EU leaders gather Tuesday for a summit intended to reinvigorate the whole enlargement process. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut, File)
            
              FILE - From left, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba gives a joint statement next to his Moldova's counterpart Aureliu Ciocoi, Georgia's counterpart David Zalkaliani and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell after their meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on June 24, 2021. The war in Ukraine has put the European Union's expansion at the top of the agenda as officials from the Western Balkans and EU leaders gather Tuesday for a summit intended to reinvigorate the whole enlargement process. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, Pool, File)
            
              FILE - NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, reaches out to shake hands with Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti prior to a meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, on Aug. 17, 2022. The war in Ukraine has put the European Union's expansion at the top of the agenda as officials from the Western Balkans and EU leaders gather Tuesday for a summit intended to reinvigorate the whole enlargement process. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys, File)
            
              FILE - European flags fly outside the European Parliament, on Feb.15, 2022 in Strasbourg, eastern France. The war in Ukraine has put the European Union's expansion at the top of the agenda as officials from the Western Balkans and EU leaders gather Tuesday for a summit intended to reinvigorate the whole enlargement process. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, File)
            
              FILE - European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi speaks during an online news conference at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, on April 20, 2021. The war in Ukraine has put the European Union's expansion at the top of the agenda as officials from the Western Balkans and EU leaders gather Tuesday for a summit intended to reinvigorate the whole enlargement process. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, Pool, File)
            
              FILE - Demonstrators gather with Georgian national and EU flags during a pro-EU and anti-Government Rally rally against in front of the Georgian Parliament in Tbilisi, Georgia, on July 3, 2022. The war in Ukraine has put the European Union's expansion at the top of the agenda as officials from the Western Balkans and EU leaders gather Tuesday for a summit intended to reinvigorate the whole enlargement process. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov, File)
            
              FILE - From right, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, North Macedonia's Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski and Czech Republic's Prime Minister Petr Fiala shake hands prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, on July 19, 2022. The war in Ukraine has put the European Union's expansion at the top of the agenda as officials from the Western Balkans and EU leaders gather Tuesday for a summit intended to reinvigorate the whole enlargement process. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The war in Ukraine has put the European Union’s expansion at the top of the agenda as officials from the Western Balkans and EU leaders gather Tuesday for a summit intended to reinvigorate the whole enlargement process.

The EU’s executive commission has repeatedly promised Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia that they have futures within the bloc. But the progress of the six nations toward getting there stalled in recent years.

As the war in nearby Ukraine rages, Albanian Prime Minister and summit host Edi Rama called for the EU to turns its words into action.

“You need the Balkans – Western Balkans – as much as the Western Balkans need the EU,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We have to face the future more and more together.”

The EU last admitted a new member — Croatia, which is also part of the Balkans — in 2013. Before that, Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007. With the withdrawal of the United Kingdom in 2021, the EU now has 27 member nations.

Although divisions among them on the pace of accession talks and some complicated bilateral issues remain, EU officials think it’s more crucial than ever to make clear the six Western Balkans nations belong in the European family so they don’t turn in frustration toward Russia or China instead.

“Enlargement policy is among the top three priorities of EU leaders,” EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi said during a visit to Belgrade, Serbia’s capital, last week. “The only real long-term solution for peace, stability and prosperity is EU membership.”

EU leaders agreed in June to make Moldova and Ukraine candidates for membership and said Georgia would be eligible for candidacy once the country met some goals defined by the European Commission.

A month later, the EU started membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia following years of delays. Bosnia moved a small step closer on its path to join the powerful economic bloc when the commission advised member countries in October to grant it candidate status despite continuing criticism of the way the nation is run.

Kosovo has only started the first step, with the signing of a Stabilization and Association Agreement. It said it would apply for candidate status later this month.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted last week that supporting Moldova, Georgia and Bosnia was crucial in the context of the war. Stoltenberg noted that Bosnia, where Russian interference and ethnic tensions long have created political instability, is “important for stability in the whole of the Western Balkans.”

But the problem for the countries-in-waiting is that the EU has not deemed their economies and political institutions ready for integration into the EU’s single market of open trade and Western democratic ideals.

“None is close to joining the EU,” said Luigi Scazzieri, a researcher at the Centre for European Reform, a think tank based in London. “They must all overcome substantial hurdles to meet the Copenhagen criteria, which define the EU’s standards on strong democratic institutions, a functioning market economy and the ability to take on the obligations of membership.”

Discussions at Tuesday’s meeting in Albania’s capital, Tirana, are also expected to focus on the negative effects for energy and food security from Russia’s war in Ukraine. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen already announced financial support to help countries in the Western Balkans cope with shortages and higher prices.

“We have created an energy support package that should all together mobilize at least 2.5 billion euros for the region,” Várhelyi said.

A bitter dispute between Serbia and Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008, remains a great concern for the Western powers ahead of the summit. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had threatened to boycott the gathering to protest a recent political appointment by Prime Minister Albin Kurti of Kosovo.

Vucic changed his mind Monday, saying he and his associates agreed it would be better if he attended to argue for Serbia’s interests. He said he expected to face “pressure” to recognize Kosovo and to impose sanctions against Russia but that he would explain Serbia’s positions during several meetings with EU leaders in Tirana.

While visiting Belgrade, Várhelyi made clear to Vucic that Serbia needed to align its foreign policies with those of EU if the country hoped to join the bloc at some point. Vucic claims he wants to take Serbia into the European Union but has cultivated ties with Russia.

Although Serbia’s representatives voted in favor of different U.N. resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Vucic has refused to explicitly condemn Moscow. His country has not joined Western sanctions against Russia over the war.

“Further progress on the rule of law is essential, but it is not going to be enough,” Várhelyi said. “Alignment with the EU foreign policy also plays a much stronger role than before. Because Europe is also under attack.”

He said the leaders meeting in Tirana also plan to discuss a recent increase in migrants and asylum-seekers moving without entry permits through the Western Balkans, most hoping to reach the EU eventually.

After the EU admitted Croatia in 2013, the enlargement process slowed as eurskeptic voices grew in founding member nations such as Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands. The eurozone debt crisis 10 years ago, mass migration into Europe in 2015, and the U.K.’s 2016 Brexit referendum also contributed to political unease with expanding the bloc further.

___

Petrequin reported from Brussels; Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.

___

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Search teams and emergency aid from around the world are pouring into
Turkey and Syria as rescuers ...
Associated Press

Afghan women, children chase false rumor to Kabul airport

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Hundreds of Afghans, including women and children, dashed toward the Kabul airport after a false rumor spread that flights were leaving for Turkey to help rescue earthquake victims. Videos and photos posted on social media since Wednesday showed dozens of desperate people running on foot in the darkness and cold towards the […]
1 day ago
People warm up with fire in front of destroyed buildings in Antakya, southern Turkey, Wednesday, Fe...
Associated Press

Live Updates I Turkish president to visit quake-hit areas

Rescuers pulled more survivors from beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings Thursday, but hopes were starting to fade of finding many more people alive more than three days after a catastrophic earthquake and series of aftershocks hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 16,000. The earthquake that razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria […]
1 day ago
FILE - Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning gestures during a press conference at the Min...
Associated Press

Beijing calls US claims over balloons ‘information warfare’

BEIJING (AP) — China on Thursday said U.S. accusations that a downed Chinese balloon was part of an extensive surveillance program amount to “information warfare against China.” The Pentagon on Wednesday said the Chinese balloon shot down off the South Carolina coast Saturday was part of a program involving a number of such airships that […]
1 day ago
A worker stretches the Ukrainian flag before Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrival at the...
Associated Press

Zelenskyy wraps up European tour with visit to EU summit

BRUSSELS (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is wrapping up a whirlwind tour of his major European backers, already heading home with heaps of goodwill, promises of more military aid and, as hardware goes, France’s highest medal of honor. The European Union’s 27 leaders were awaiting the man in khaki in Brussels on Thursday, hoping […]
1 day ago
Heavy machinery moves coal as it is poured onto a stack near Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley, Aus...
Associated Press

Australia rejects new coal mine on environmental grounds

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia has for the first time rejected a coal mining application based on environmental law. The government is under pressure to curb climate change by blocking all new coal and gas extraction projects. Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of both fossil fuels, which are major sources of the […]
1 day ago
Raqiya Abdsalam, who survived a bout of dengue fever, sits at her home in El-Obeid, Sudan on Januar...
Associated Press

Sudan’s tropical disease spike reflects poor health system

EL OBEID, Sudan (AP) — The two Sudanese women thought they had malaria and were taking their medication, but things took a dire turn. Both complained of a splitting headache and fever that didn’t respond to the anti-malaria treatment. By the time she was diagnosed with dengue fever, Raqiya Abdsalam was unconscious. “Soon after they […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Enlargement back on EU’s agenda at Western Balkans summit