The Western Balkan countries were once again left behind by the European Council, while at the same time Ukraine and Moldova were fast-tracked to join them as candidate countries.
The EU-Western Balkans summit – held in Brussels on June 23 before the European Council plenary meeting – lasted more than three hours but ended without a joint statement or press conference.
The Western Balkan countries had considered boycotting the meeting altogether, but eventually decided to attend, with little hope for a favorable outcome.
As expected, no progress was made. Long-standing candidate countries North Macedonia and Albania are still unable to start EU membership talks because of a Bulgarian veto against Skopje, which it accuses of discriminating against ethnic Bulgarians. This veto also blocks Tirana because the two countries were coupled in the accession process.
Bulgaria’s parliament was unable to lift the veto before the summit, and political unrest over the issue played a major role in the fall of the government on the eve of the meeting. Although the foreign policy committee later approved a compromise proposed by France, it may still fall victim to domestic political maneuvering and it was rejected by Skopje anyway.
Meanwhile, Montenegro and Serbia, which have already started accession negotiations, do not seem any closer to joining, and Bosnia and Herzegovina has still not obtained the status of candidate country, despite calls for encourage it in order to reach an internal consensus on the way forward.
“If I can translate what was important for us today, there were no concrete results for the Western Balkans but we had a good discussion,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic then said.
“If you ask me whether North Macedonia and Albania got dates for the start of negotiations – no, Pristina didn’t get visa liberalisation, Bosnia and Herzegovina didn’t get candidate status and U.S [Serbia] have been criticized by many members regarding the sanctions and that’s it,” Vucic said, referring to the fact that Serbia did not impose EU sanctions against its ally Russia for its invasion of Israel. Ukraine.
“Today, in fact, nothing more happened, I think our friends from Skopje and Tirana deserve to start negotiations with the EU and I think that will happen as soon as possible,” said said Vucic.
The leaders of North Macedonia and Albania were more damning, both in their criticism of Bulgaria and the rest of the European Council, with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama tweeting ahead of the meeting that Bulgaria’s actions were a “disgrace” and that the EU put on a “frightening spectacle of helplessness”.
“I had to win a third term to wait for the opening of accession negotiations. Bulgaria is a disgrace, but it is not just Bulgaria. The reason is the distorted spirit of enlargement. The spirit of enlargement has shifted from a shared vision of an entire community to the abduction of individual member states,” Rama said as quoted by Politics.
“Nice place, nice people, nice words, nice photos and imagine how much nicer it could be if nice promises were followed by nice delivery… But we Albanians are not as nice as give up nicely! So we will continue and work even harder to make Albania a good member of the EU,” Rama said.
North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski said: “I will be direct. What is happening now is a serious problem and is a serious blow to the credibility of the European Union.”
He poured cold water on the EU’s attempts to reach a compromise solution with Bulgaria. Kovacevski said he rejected the French proposal to initially focus accession negotiations on the protection and non-discriminatory treatment of minorities.
“The 27 countries, the 27 leaders who have joined the Union, have all proudly joined it in all their diversity and with full respect for their own linguistic and historical differences and those of others. None of that has been problematic on their European path,” Kovacevski said. “That’s what we want, nothing more, nothing less. Respect for the linguistic, cultural, ethnic and historical identity of my people,” he added.
Macedonian politicians and the public had been angered by a tweet from EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi released in the morning that appeared to suggest the EU was bending over backwards to address Bulgaria’s concerns , which Skopje considers to be false.
“The EU takes all Bulgarian concerns very seriously and they are now part of the negotiation process. Now is the time to make responsible decisions. The Western Balkans should be part of our European Union. We will be stronger together,” Varhelyi said in his tweet.
Subsequently, EU leaders attempted to show a brave face to the stalled accession processes.
“During the EU and Western Balkan leaders’ meeting today, the EU sent a strong message to reinvigorate the EU’s integration process with the Western Balkans and to advance membership. On North Macedonia, work continues to quickly find a mutually acceptable solution,” European Council President Charles Michel said in a tweet.
Earlier, EU High Representative Josep Borrell said: “We should start negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, and I certainly cannot hide my disappointment. My disappointment, I guess, is a lot of people’s disappointment. We should start this.
He admitted that the process had been problematic and that “we need to reconsider our decision on working methods”.
Borrell insisted there had been good news, citing an agreement in the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue process “to put the energy side of the issue into practice, which is an important step forward. “.
“We will continue to work on the dialogue, and maybe by the end of the month we can have a high-level meeting to [make] another step,” Borrell said.