Juncker Fears 1990s-Type War in Western Balkans without ‘Serious’ Prospects for EU Membership
The EU chief doesn’t see the Western Balkan states joining the EU before 2025 but insists on the Union being “serious” about their integration.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has warned that if the EU is not serious about their integration, the countries of the Western Balkans could end up fighting another war like the 1990s wars that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
Juncker’s warning comes in the wake of the failed referendum in Macedonia which was supposed to resolve the former Yugoslav republic’s name dispute with Greece, and thus pave its way for NATO and EU membership.
The referendum was boycotted by Macedonia’s nationalist opposition, with the Macedonian President, who is affiliated with it, blaming the whole situation on the EU’s “double standards”.
Yet, according to the head of the EU executive, tangible prospects of EU membership for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Kosovo are the way to guarantee another 1990s-type war will not erupt in the Western Balkans.
“If, in Europe’s highly complicated landscape, the impression arises that we’re not serious about offering the prospect of EU membership to the western Balkans, then we might see later – and probably even sooner – what we saw in Balkans in the 1990s,” Juncker said in a speech to the Austrian parliament on Friday, as cited by AFP and France24.
The six countries of the Western Balkans, which are not EU members like their neighbors Croatia and Slovenia, are at different stages in their applications for joining the European Union.
Serbia and Montenegro have already started membership negotiations, Albania and Macedonia are classified as “candidate countries”, and Bosnia and Kosovo are listed as “potential candidates”.
In December 2017, Juncker said Serbia and Montenegro could join the EU by 2025, as he argued that EU accession would be invaluable to the stability of the Western Balkans.
“[Any] progress [made] still hasn’t gone far enough,” the European Commission President acknowledged now in his speech in Vienna where he attended the centenary celebrations marking the foundation of the Republic of Austria.
The EC chief admitted that the road to EU membership for the Western Balkan countries was “still very long”.
Juncker reiterated he did not see any of them as members of the EU “before 2025, and even then it won’t be quick”.
That is why he argued that the EU should offer these countries a sort of “economic area where they can partially behave as they will eventually do as full member states.”
“[The EU must] tend to the west Balkans intensively and help where necessary,” the EU Commission chief said.
“[It should] ensure it is understood that all border conflicts between the west Balkan states must be resolved before the membership can be attained,” he insisted.
In addition to the Macedonian name dispute, other pressing issues in the Western Balkans include the unsettled relations between Serbia and its former province Kosovo, and the fragility of Bosnia and Herzegovina, among others.
Interestingly, Juncker’s warning about the possibility of a new “Balkan war” came on the date when the First Balkan War was declared back in 1912 between the former Ottoman Turkey and the Balkan countries it used to rule over, Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, and Serbia.
(Banner image: Austrian EU Presidency)