The European Union will offer this Wednesday at the Eurobalkan summit in Brdo (Slovenia) a battery of economic advantages and close political cooperation to the six Balkan countries that were left behind from the great expansion of the community club to the east of the continent. The juicy offer, which includes everything from export facilities to the elimination of the costs of the roaming in mobile telephony, it aims to compensate for the continuous delays in the possible incorporation to the EU.
The leaders of the 27 countries of the Union plan to reaffirm their commitment to the future incorporation of the six missing links. But the political climate of the club prevents setting a timetable to complete the negotiation with the countries that have already started the entry path (Serbia and Montenegro) and there are not even guarantees that the countries that are already in a position to do so will be allowed to start it. (Albania and North Macedonia), as Bulgaria blocks it due to a bilateral conflict with Skopje over language and identity. Much more uncertain and remote still is the European perspective of Bosnia-Herzegovina, always exposed to the political explosion, and of Kosovo, whose independence has not been recognized by five EU partners (including Spain).
The Brdo summit is a new attempt to keep the so-called Western Balkans anchored to the European club in the face of increasing interventionism in the area of other powers, such as Russia, Turkey or China. But the truth is that Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are still installed in a waiting room in which frustration and mistrust increases month by month in the face of a horizon of entry into the EU that never has before approaches.
Slovenia, the country that presides over the EU for this semester, hoped that the summit would send a powerful signal of openness to its neighbors and former co-members of the defunct Yugoslavia. “We must give these countries a European perspective that is realistic and credible,” says a source in the presidency. But the resistance of various European partners, with France and the Netherlands at the forefront, does not allow setting an entry calendar. The most optimistic sources indicate 2025 as a tentative date to start incorporation. But other sources rule out any income before 2030. In any case, more than a quarter of a century after the EU gave the Western Balkans a ‘European perspective’, which means that an entire generation has already grown up in those countries with the EU in the spotlight without having seen any decisive rapprochement.
The draft conclusions of the summit indicate that “the EU reaffirms its commitment to the enlargement process and the decisions taken in this regard.” But community sources acknowledge that the mere reference to the word enlargement has been the subject of “a very long debate” among the diplomatic representatives of the 27 in Brussels.
The term enlargement finally appears, but is accompanied by a long line that recalls the obligation of applicants to undertake “credible reforms” and to submit to “just and rigorous conditionality”. And it is recalled that even this transformation process does not guarantee membership because the club reserves the right of admission given “the importance of the EU being able to maintain and deepen its own development, guaranteeing its ability to integrate new members.”
Join MRT now to follow all the news and read without limits
In the absence of a concrete offer to join the Union, the 27 European leaders will offer their Balkan counterparts a broad investment program and economic privileges, aimed at reinforcing, according to community sources, “the fact that Europe is the largest partner of the zone and the most reliable ”.
The plan includes from negotiating a schedule to suppressing telephone roaming charges (the surcharges known as roaming) between the EU and the six entry candidates, the establishment of “green corridors” at border posts to facilitate the passage of goods from the Western Balkans or the future integration into the cross-border payment system (SEPA) which has drastically reduced the costs of bank transfers within the EU.
“It is about the Brdo summit making a reality or marking the beginning of very tangible changes that will benefit the day-to-day lives of the citizens of those countries,” says a European source on the eve of the meeting. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, conveyed the same message during her visit to the region at the end of September in which she attended, for example, the start of works to improve the railway connection between Serbia and Austria and Greece , or the agreement for a “highway of peace” between Serbian territory and Kosovar.
The summit will also remember the essential contribution of the EU in the fight against the covid-19 pandemic, with the donation of more than 3.3 billion euros and the delivery of 2.9 million vaccines. And the Union’s financial commitment to the area will be underlined, recalling the implementation of an investment plan endowed with 9,000 million euros in non-refundable grants between 2021 and 2027, as well as the mobilization of up to 20,000 million euros in soft loans.
Brussels believes that these resources can trigger the social and economic transformation of an area far removed from European income levels and community production standards in which the bar for social and environmental demands is raised at times. But developments in recent years show that, despite European aid and investment, the economic convergence of the Western Balkans with the EU remains stagnant. GDP per capita relative to the EU in Serbia closed in 2019 (the last year before the pandemic) at 41%, the same level as in 2013. Only Montenegro has improved significantly and reached 50%, a level close to Bulgaria ( 51%), the most lagging community partner.
The authoritarian and illiberal drift of some of the partners incorporated in the latest enlargements, such as Hungary or Poland, has also led Brussels to toughen the entrance exam. French President Emmanuel Macron, in particular, has forced a reform of the negotiation process to demand that reforms related to the rule of law, democratic quality and respect for fundamental freedoms be consolidated before becoming a full partner. .
First, Greece; now, Bulgaria: the Macedonian obstacle course
It was 2018, so the masks still did not hide the smiles and everyone could see the atmosphere – “similar to that of a wedding banquet”, as described by the Greek public television ERT – that reigned in the town of Psarades, on the shore of the river. border Lake Prespa, when Greece and the then provisionally called former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia signed a historic agreement that ended 27 years of conflict over the name of the latter. Symbolically, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev removed his tie to give it to his then Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras. Thanks to the agreement, Athens stopped blocking the eventual entry into the EU – and into NATO, which it joined in 2020 – of its small neighbor of just 1.8 million inhabitants (according to the census it has just carried out after two decades without updating it ) in exchange for it becoming the Republic of North Macedonia.
The parliaments of both countries endorsed the text and last year – although with a hardening of the process to soften the reluctance of France and the Netherlands – the EU gave the green light to start accession negotiations for Albania and North Macedonia, candidates since 2005. But as in the legend of Sisyphus, which takes place precisely in Greece, the stone has rolled down the slope again before reaching the top.
On this occasion, it is Bulgaria, a community member since 2007, who vetoes the launch of negotiations with Skopje on an issue that demonstrates the importance of national identities and divergent historical narratives even between states that maintain full diplomatic relations and lack territorial disputes. Sofia demands that Skopje recognize that the Macedonian nation and language have Bulgarian roots prior to its creation in 1944 as a republic within Tito’s now-defunct socialist Yugoslavia.
He also wants me to modify how textbooks relate to the WWII occupation of present-day North Macedonia by Bulgaria, which was allied with the Nazis. The anger also extends to whether historical figures such as Gotse Delchev, one of the leaders of the Ilinden Revolt – the armed uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1903 that both parties celebrate as their own – should be considered Bulgarian or Macedonian.
“It is quite a stupid matter where it is not very clear what exactly the Bulgarians want. It also shows a terrible lack of psychological understanding: if you are telling the Macedonians that they had no identity until Tito and you complain that what they were hearing then is that Bulgaria hates them, this just doesn’t help to change that image ”, he assures by phone James Ker-Lindsay, professor at the London School of Economics specializing in South East Europe.
Bulgaria, which is home to a Macedonian minority, also fears future territorial claims, although precisely to overcome these fears both countries signed a Good Neighbor and Friendship Agreement in 2017 that clearly rules out it. Within the framework of this agreement, a commission made up mainly of historians from both countries was established to seek meeting points. His work is in a kind of stalemate due to the difficulty of reaching consensus. One of their meetings in 2020 was described by one of the Bulgarian participants, Angel Dimitrov, as just as “gray” as the sky on that day in Skopje.
“It is a typical case of exploiting membership in an organization to resolve a bilateral issue. Bulgaria’s demands have nothing to do with the acquis communautaire. And this generates something like two parallel processes and damages the credibility of the EU ”, says by telephone from Austria Zoran Nechev, senior researcher at the Institute for Democracy Societas Civilis in Skopje (IDSCS).
According to a joint survey last June by IDSCS and the Research Institute of the University of Macedonia, in the Greek city of Thessaloniki, the impasse The current situation due to the Bulgarian veto has led 39% of Macedonians to rethink their opinion on the agreement with Greece, which the Skopje government presented as a painful, but essential, concession to open the doors of the EU.
The internal situation in Bulgaria also does not help to understand which phone to call to negotiate a lasting agreement, Nechev recalls. The country has been without a government for months and will hold its third elections since April next month.
Disclaimer: This article is generated from the feed and not edited by our team.