After years of enlargement fatigue, it is now time for the EU to truly recommit to the accession perspective of the Western Balkan region and accelerate the enlargement process.
This is the main message MEPs are sent to participants of the EU-Western Balkan Summit in Tirana.
The S&D Group hosted the high-level summit in Vienna. Among leaders and high ranking progressive politicians from all Western Balkan countries aspiring to join the EU, the summit was attended by Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Dimitar Kovačevski, President of Montenegro, Milo Đukanović, and Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti.
They adopted a joint declaration. Iratxe García Pérez, group leader of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament and MEP, said: “Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is also an attack against European values and it has reminded us of the importance of EU enlargement – an engine for democracy, freedom, peace and prosperity on our continent. Western Balkan countries, who have been seeking to join the EU for so long, deserve our full support in their reform process to be able to join the EU effectively and as soon as the set criteria are met. Further delays would only increase frustration among the citizens and make the region more vulnerable. Other actors, including Russia and China, will be there to fill the vacuum.”
“But we must draw lessons from the previous accessions. Rule of law and democratic reforms must be at the heart of the process. As progressives, we also insist that the enlargement process brings benefits and opportunities to ordinary people, and in particularly the young. That is why we need more concrete initiatives, programmes and investments in the region.”
Andreas Schieder, head of the SPÖ delegation in the European Parliament and MEP, said: “At our progressive Western Balkan summit in Vienna we spoke a clear language: the European family will never be complete without our partners in the region. As Socialists and Democrats we refuse to give up to the populists, and instead continue to explain to our citizens that the EU itself will benefit from a stable and prosperous Western Balkans. Supporting their efforts to pursue required reforms is an investment for both sides!”
“As much as we want the EU to accelerate the enlargement process, it’s clear that its success also depends on countries aspiring to join our EU family. They must make clear pro-European choices! Too often political disputes or ethnic divisions slow down the progress of EU-related reforms.”
“Almost 20 years after the Thessaloniki Summit, where Western Balkan countries were promised to join the EU one day, both sides must finally make concrete progress.”
In a separate development the Council of the European Union voted last week in favour of the Schengen area accession of Croatia.
However, Austria and the Netherlands blocked Romania and Bulgaria’s accession.
Thomas Waitz and Mélanie Vogel, co-chairs of the European Green Party, told this site, “Austria and the Netherlands are leaving the EU fact-based consensus on Schengen enlargement. Both countries try to blame the failure of the EU’s migration policy on Bulgaria and Romania.”
“The conflation of asylum figures and the Schengen Agreement is irresponsible. This veto is harmful to good neighbourly relations and is compromising EU unity in crucial times. Extending the Schengen Agreement to Bulgaria and Romania is essential for European integration.”
“We call on the Council to reopen the discussion about the accession of Romania, Bulgaria as soon as possible and on Austria and Netherland to review their position.”
He added, “The EU must develop solidarity-based migration policies. Solidarity towards EU member states welcoming migrants and refugees, and solidarity with migrants and refugees fleeing wars, disasters and persecution and human rights abuse of autocratic regimes.”