EU Opens Door for Balkan States, But Hurdles Remain

EU Opens Door for Balkan States, But Hurdles RemainEU Opens Door for Balkan States, But Hurdles Remain

The European Union has offered some of the six Balkan states who hope to join the bloc the prospect of becoming new members by 2025, but warned them they still have many obstacles to overcome.

The European Commission’s roadmap for the region unveiled earlier this month said the countries must root out problems with corruption and the rule of law, and, especially, settle a series of simmering territorial disputes, AFP reported.

“The EU door is open to further accessions when, and only when, the individual countries have met the criteria,” the plan said.

European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker will start a tour of the region on Sunday to discuss the new strategy, which stresses “implementing fundamental reforms and good neighborly relations”.

Montenegro and Serbia are the frontrunners to join, with Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia lagging behind, but all are getting impatient after the EU put expansion on hold four years ago.

The EU has been wary of admitting new members before they settle their differences, and the border rows will be a particular point of contention in a region still bedeviled by the aftermath of the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the chance to join by 2025 was “very important as an incentive for Serbian citizens”.

But he warned that it would take some “difficult decisions” to solve the country’s outstanding issues—first and foremost, Serbia’s dispute with Kosovo.

Serbia has refused to recognize its former breakaway province since it declared independence a decade ago.

Montenegro has reason to be satisfied with the EU’s strategy, according to Prime Minister Dusko Markovic.

Juncker has warned Serbia and Montenegro against too much “excitement”, saying that 2025 “is an indicative date, an encouragement date so that the people concerned can consistently set out on their way”.

The deadline for the other Balkan nations is less clear.

Albania, a candidate since 2014, hopes to open talks with Brussels this year and is willing to speed up reforms to catch up with the others, according to Prime Minister Edi Rama.

“We want to make progress faster and, why not, join EU at the same time” as Serbia, Rama said.

But Albanian political analyst Lutfi Dervishi warned that joining the EU “is a national desire but it is not a lottery”.

“The ball is in our court,” Dervishi told AFP, referring to the pace of reform, particularly in the fight against organized crime and corruption, seen by the EU as a priority for Albania.


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