Czech Republic and Six EU Countries Urge Faster EU Enlargement into Western Balkans

In a declaration adopted at the foreign ministers’ meeting in Austria, the Czech Republic and six other European Union (EU) countries called for an expedited process of EU enlargement into the Western Balkans. The initiative, known as “Friends of the Western Balkans,” was jointly signed by the foreign ministers of Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece, and Italy. The declaration emphasizes the need for gradual and accelerated integration, urging concrete steps to be taken in 2024 and beyond.

The signatories express their concerns that the EU enlargement process has been slow, complex, and bureaucratic, leading to disillusionment and alienation among the people of the Western Balkan countries, particularly the youth. They believe that the current pace has yielded few tangible results and call for a more efficient and effective approach to address this issue.

Additionally, the ministers highlight the threat posed by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, emphasizing that it affects both the EU and the Western Balkan countries. They also reference the recent violent events in northern Kosovo as evidence of how unresolved tensions and long-standing conflicts can undermine stability. The declaration calls for stability in the region and stresses the importance of addressing these challenges collectively.

To enhance cooperation, the “Friends of the Western Balkans” propose regular meetings between foreign ministers from the region and their EU counterparts, as well as expert dialogues on issues such as organized crime and illegal migration.

Jan Lipavsky, the Czech Foreign Minister, emphasized the need for courage in dealing with open issues and stated that the current situation in Ukraine is driven by fear in the face of an existential threat.

The initiative led by Alexander Schallenberg, the Austrian Foreign Minister, commemorates the 20th anniversary of the EU-Western Balkans summit held in Thessaloniki, Greece. During that summit, the EU affirmed the region’s European perspective.

The Western Balkan countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Albania, are candidates for EU membership. The declaration seeks to address concerns that granting candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova last year might disadvantage the Western Balkan countries. Austria, in particular, has expressed apprehension regarding this issue.

The “Friends of the Western Balkans” initiative aims to reinvigorate the EU enlargement process, demonstrating a collective commitment to fostering stability, progress, and integration in the region. It underlines the importance of addressing the concerns and aspirations of the Western Balkan countries to ensure a prosperous and unified Europe.

Article by Prague Forum

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