‘Frank’ Talks in Brussels amid ‘No Easy Landings’ for Western Balkan States Seeking to Join EU

‘Frank’ Talks in Brussels amid ‘No Easy Landings’ for Western Balkan States Seeking to Join EU

The new methodology for EU membership negotiations proposed by the EC is yet to be approved by all 27 EU member states.

Leaders of the six Western Balkan countries seeking EU membership met on Sunday with European Council President Charles Michel for “frank” informal talks on their accession prospects.

Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia are already official EU candidates, along with Turkey, while Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are formally categorized as “potential candidates”.

The multilateral meeting in Brussels were also attended by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Josep Borrell, and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, whose country, which technically also in the “Western Balkans”, presently holds the rotating EU Presidency.

The informal talks come ahead of a major Western Balkans summit to be held in the Croatian capital Zagreb in May, and ahead of a potential decision to start membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia.

The decision to start membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia was blocked in the fall of 2019 by French President Emmanuel Macron, and partly by Denmark and the Netherlands, to much international criticism.

The European Commission announced recently a new enlargement process proposal, which would see the start of EU membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia before the Zagreb Summit in May.

“I look forward to a frank, intense and open discussion,” Michel said before the meeting began, as cited by AFP and France24.

“We are going to work today and tomorrow for the next European Council (summit) to open the door to the European perspective of the Balkan countries,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Sunday.

“It’s about engaging in a political dialogue at the highest level” with the Balkan nations “and to understand their expectations, before the summit in Zagreb” on May 17, an unnamed European official was quoted as saying.

The new European Commission enlargement process plan is designed to satisfy France’s insistence on a more rigorous route to EU membership, but it must still receive unanimous support from all 27 EU member states.

“We have revised our methodology and the methodology in its revised form should create and regain trust in all sides in this process because it’s accelerating the structural reforms,” von der Leyen said.

“On the other hand it’s creating a credible perspective for the Western Balkans to join, over time, the EU. We want also to pave the way for Albania and North Macedonia to start the accession talks with EU if possible for before the Zagreb summit,” she added.

Under the new proposals, the EU accession process would focus on “fundamental reforms” first, and create an option for membership talks to be “put on hold in certain areas… or suspended overall.”

“[We are] very interested to see and discuss the new methodology, see if it can come out as a platform of common understanding with the member states,” Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama said in Brussels.

“We landed with some difficulties, so it’s a kind of signal that the landing for us will not be easy,” he quipped, referring to the stormy weather in Belgium on Sunday.

“We had a landing on our fourth attempt… and I made a comparison to our attempt to start the accession talks,” North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov commented in turn.

Next month the European Commission is due to publish an individual report for each of the six Western Balkan candidate countries.

(Banner image: Charles Michel on Twitter)

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