EurActiv has not been able to confirm this
information with the German foreign ministry so far but details
should be made public in the beginning of July.
A firm commitment to these countries’ EU accession
was given in Thessaloniki in 2003 during the Greek presidency’s
EU-Western Balkans summit.
Since then, Montenegro and Serbia have received a
green light to start accession negotiations, Macedonia is a
candidate country, and Albania is expecting to get the same status.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is the country that lags behind the most,
while Kosovo’s unresolved international status is still a cause for
headaches in the Union.
However, in the last 11 years, progress has been
uneven, and countries such as Macedonia or Bosnia have been stuck on
their path towards the EU.
While Bosnia and Herzegovina is dealing with
important domestic challenges, Greece has prevented Macedonia from
starting accession negotiations for the past six years, despite a
clear recommendation from the EU executive, a blockade which has
fueled a deterioration of democratic standards in the country.
For Corina Stratulat, senior policy analyst at the
European Policy Centre (EPC) in Brussels, “the organisation of this
conference is consistent with the pressing need to deal with the
unfinished business in the Balkans".
“New life for EU enlargement policy”
“Although peace has taken hold of the region,
Balkan countries are still not all in [the EU] and certainly they
are not all transformed as we had envisioned, and the policy is
stuck for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bosnia for
example, says Stratulat. "So. from this point of view it’s useful to
organise this kind of conference and have a serious and strategic
discussion and give a new life to a policy that is struggling to
demonstrate its added value.”
EU enlargement policy has indeed been pushed into
the background by most EU member states since the accession of the
Eastern block in the mid-2000s, and the accession of Croatia in 2013
received very little media attention and publicity.
But for countries such as Bosnia and Macedonia,
the lack of progress towards EU membership carries a number of
stability risks, which Merkel is likely aware of.
“It is useful to make enlargement a political
issue rather than sweeping it under the carpet, hoping it will deal
with itself, especially for some of these countries. The situation
has gotten worse for some countries and there are huge risks
associated with Bosnia or Macedonia,” Stratulat told EurActiv.
However, the Russian offensive in Ukraine might
also be another reason that Germany and the EU are renewing their
interest in the Balkans, where Moscow is also lurking.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the main reason but I think
it’s in the mind of Germany and other member states. Relations
between Russia and some of the Balkan countries precede the
Ukrainian crisis and Russia is a strategic partner. I don’t think
the EU is opposed to it, but of course, given the flexing of muscles
Russia has been doing lately, these kind of relations are treated
with more consideration than in the past,” Stratulat commented.
Serbia, the largest country in the region, and the
most strategic partner of the EU, is also known to have very close
ties to Moscow, which has put Belgrade in a tight spot on issues
such as sanctions against Russia, and the construction of South
Although the European Commission has made it clear
that the EU considers the South Stream agreements with Russia
illegal, Serbia has nonetheless decided to go on with it despite
European reluctance, and asked for “more patience and more