Convergence of the Western Balkans in the EU: From the dream of 2025 to the realism of 2030

European Commission President Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel (August ۲۱) attended an informal dinner on EU enlargement in Athens, Greece. In October, the Commission is due to present a periodic report on negotiations progress with the Balkan countries before European leaders decide whether to start full accession talks. A decision is expected at the EU summit in December.
13 September 2023
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Ali Beman Eghbali Zarch

European Commission President Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel (August 21) attended an informal dinner on EU enlargement in Athens, Greece. In October, the Commission is due to present a periodic report on negotiations progress with the Balkan countries before European leaders decide whether to start full accession talks. A decision is expected at the EU summit in December.

In this regard, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis hosted a number of European leaders on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the 2003 Thessaloniki Declaration, where European and Western Balkan leaders agreed that the future and vision of the Balkans should be European. In this summit, the leaders of Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Romania, and Croatia gathered together.

European leaders also met and discussed with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, although the Ukrainian leader once again attended the summit after visiting various European countries, including Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, in search of economic and military support to secure the future of the war-torn country. In addition to this potential surprise guest, there was also a notable absence, as Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama did not attend the negotiations, indicating the weakening of diplomatic relations between Athens and Tirana. The issue is related to the case of a person named Belleri, who has been arrested since May on charges of vote buying. He is a citizen of Greek descent who won the municipal elections of Himarë in southern Albania but has not yet been able to assume his responsibilities.

Among the countries of the Romanian region, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Greece are the most supportive of the Western Balkans joining the EU. Therefore, the Prime Minister of Romania, Marcel Ciolacu, participated in the working summit of the leaders of the countries of Southeast Europe and the Western Balkans, which, according to the statement of the government of this country, the talks focused on the development of regional cooperation in Southeast Europe, as well as the challenges posed by the developments of the conflict in Ukraine on the participating countries. The presence of Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, and Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, together with the leaders of countries and governments of the region, is of special importance in this summit. Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu and his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis also discussed cooperation in key sectors such as the energy sector as well as support for Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, during which Marcel Ciolacu explained the strategic reasons for Romania's favorable decision to join the Schengen and thanked the Greek side for the continuous support in this regard. This meeting was held on the sidelines of the summit of the leaders of Southeast European and Western Balkan countries in Athens, which was organized by the Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The countries of the region have been trying to join the EU since the 2002 Thessaloniki summit. A number of countries had a dream of 2025. Still, Charles Michel, the President of the EU Council, said a few days ago that the Union should be ready to accept new members by 2030. Five countries of the Western Balkan region, namely Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, along with Ukraine and Moldova, are candidates for membership in the EU. According to Charles Michel, the appointment of new members will show the seriousness of both parties.

The expansion of the EU is supposed to be discussed during the upcoming summits of the leaders of the 27 member countries of the EU, during which they will specifically express their opinion on the start of the EU membership negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova. The European Commission is going to inform 27 member countries of its recommendations in this field this autumn. Ukraine and Moldova became EU candidate countries in June 2022, just a few months after Russia's military invasion of Ukraine.

On the one hand, one of the most important consequences of accepting new members for EU member countries can be the difficult and complicated decision-making process in Brussels, and without a doubt, the accession of a country like Ukraine, with more than 40 million people, which can have more than 50 seats in the European Parliament, will have its own meaning. Of course, the key role of Ukraine in the world grain market will mean that the country's accession to the EU will not affect the policies of Brussels in the field of agriculture. On the other hand, the economic aspect and its pressure will be on the budget of the members.

Therefore, some member countries such as Poland, Greece, and Hungary, which are currently benefiting economically from being a member of the EU, will become financial donors to the Union's budget if new members are accepted. Also, Germany and France, which contribute to funding more than receiving financial aid from Brussels, will increase their contribution. Of course, the acceptance of new members requires consensus, and each of the 27 member countries of the EU can veto the request to accept a new member. In this way, the domestic politics of the member countries will play a decisive role in their stance towards accepting new members. In general, the acceptance of new members in the EU has significant positive and negative consequences that some countries, such as Greece, Romania, Croatia, etc., consider the convergence of the countries of the region in the economic structure of Europe to be the key to hope for lasting political and security stability in the Balkan region with a high capacity for crisis and crisis-making.

Ali Bemaneghbali Zarch, a senior expert in Eurasia

(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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