As the Russian war in Ukraine continues to hang over the area, leaders from the European Union and Western Balkan nations will meet in Albania on Tuesday to discuss ways to strengthen their bonds and quicken the region’s admission to the bloc.
Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia all submitted membership applications to the EU years ago, but each of their applications was rejected, in part because EU capitals lacked enthusiasm for further enlargement.
However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has boosted support for these nations’ integration, which has led to the start of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia this summer.
This summit will be held in Tirana on Tuesday for the first time ever, which, in the words of an EU official, “is a symbol of the strength of the partnership.”
Time of truth
Another official emphasised that Western Balkan countries still need to implement “credible reforms” and make “swift and sustained progress” for full alignment with the bloc’s foreign and security policy, including on sanctions and visa policy, and that the EU will use the summit to “unambiguously reconfirm its commitment to the accession process.”
Except for Serbia, every one of these nations has imposed sanctions on Russia. For foreign nationals whose governments have agreements with the little country, Belgrade is currently a key point of entry into the EU.
Robert Golob, the prime minister of Slovenia, told reporters on Monday that his country and others in the Western Balkans “share the opinion that the harmonisation of visa regimes is vital.” “While there has been some progress, we must continue to push for this harmonisation.”
Kosovo will make one more push to be granted visa liberalisation with the EU because its attempt to join the EU is hampered by the fact that it is not recognised as a sovereign entity by several EU states and by Serbia.
Bosnia and Herzegovina will be watching for signs that it may soon be granted candidate status.
In October, the 3.2 million-person nation received support from the European Commission for candidacy.
EU nations might make their choice public in the European Council two days after the General Affairs Council on December 13.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, told reporters on Monday: “I’m not able to predict what will be the decision but I can tell you that a few months ago just before the summer, we had an in-depth exchange of views at the European Council level on the question of the status for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
During his joint appearance with Golob in Ljubljana, he continued, “The 13 December will be a particular moment of truth because all the member states will have to say what they think about that topic.
security and energy
But because membership in the EU is a lengthy and difficult process, the EU is also eager to fortify connections by include Western Balkan nations in some of its programmes.
As a result, decision-makers in Tirana will also consider other potential areas of collaboration, like as health, education, energy, and security.
Last month, the EU unveiled a $1 billion aid package to assist the Western Balkans in addressing the immediate effects of the energy crisis and fostering short- and long-term resilience.
The Western Balkans might also participate in the bloc’s voluntary common purchasing platform for gas and hydrogen to save money.
Additionally, the bloc has released a €30 billion Economic and Investment Plan for the region with the goal of accelerating connectivity, the green and digital revolution, and both.
The conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, however, runs the risk of overshadowing the conference. Aleksandar Vui, the prime minister of Serbia, has threatened to abstain from the gathering in the wake of a political appointment in Pristina.