Balkan expansion: EU steps up the pace

The EU wants to press ahead with accession for the Western Balkan states. Serbia and Montenegro could join as early as 2025. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo have also been given clear accession prospects. At the same time Commission President Juncker has stressed that none of the countries in question are close to fulfilling the accession criteria. Commentators outline the tasks that lie ahead on the path to membership.

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Standart (BG) /

Infrastructure promotes integration

The countries of the Western Balkans must learn to communicate with each other once again if they want to join the EU, Standart comments:

“The construction of communication channels both inside the Western Balkans and in the rest of Europe is an important precondition for EU integration. The lack of direct flights between countries in the region speaks volumes. As things stand now participants in regional forums in the Western Balkans meet at Vienna International Airport before flying on together to this or that regional capital. It's important to build up a communication network that facilitates encounters between people in the region, not just in the area of transport, but also in telecommunications, energy, education and digitisation.”

Delo (SI) /

EU doesn't really have any alternative

Delo is extremely sceptical about the EU's plans:

“One must consider that Serbia is still 'at war' with Kosovo, Montenegro is driven by corruption and Macedonia is locked in a conflict with Greece and the Albanian minority. Therefore this is an impossible mission. Not to mention the fact that Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are falling apart. If the EU decides to let these halfway democratized countries become members it would be disastrous for the Union. Orbán, the Visegrád States and the other European populists would no doubt rejoice to have such company. And yet the EU, although it is once again reacting terribly late, doesn't have much choice. A democratic, peaceful and more European Balkan region has always been vital for peace and democracy in Europe.”

Kurir (MK) /

Macedonia in the EU? That could take a while

The Macedonians shouldn't get their hopes up about speedy EU accession, the Macedonian daily Kurir writes criticising Prime Minister Zoran Zaev for pulling the wool over people's eyes:

“The EU is expecting economic growth. What sort of economic growth do you have to offer? The one and a half billion euros in new debt you've accrued in just seven months in office? The increased tax burden on citizens? Petrol prices that climb higher with every week that passes? ... Zero euros in direct foreign investment? ... Stop making false promises and tell the people that at best we can hope for EU accession in 2030 or later, and that you haven't fulfilled any of the EU's demands.”

Avvenire (IT) /

EU must get fit for enlargement

The prospect of accession for the Balkan states forces the EU to restructure, Avvenire writes:

“Will the Montenegrin worker inspire as much fear as the Polish plumber once did? Hardly. The EU, which is now fixing its gaze on the Balkans and is in principle ready to swell to 33 member states, is less under threat from a new onslaught of workers taking advantage of free movement than by an institutional gigantism that will be exceedingly difficult to manage. ... For that reason Berlin, Paris and Rome must seize the initiative and work on a new structure that picks up on the basic idea behind the much touted two-speed EU.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Premature membership

The Western Balkan states may well be allowed to join the EU without their being ready for membership, Die Welt believes:

“In any event, it's not as if the decision were entirely up to Brussels while the countries have to jostle for position until the solemn word is handed down that they have finally met the EU's legal standards. Rather the Western Balkans are a hugely attractive region, both geostrategically and economically. For years now Russia, Turkey, China, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been trying to extend their influence there. The Europeans are in competition with these states. For many Serbs Russia is the promised land, Turkey is digging in its heels in Kosovo, and China is building key motorways. Basically the Europeans are trying to secure their influence as quickly as possible - if need be also through premature accession.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Can Macedonia become a role model?

In its search for an expansion strategy for the Balkans the EU at least has one comparatively successful track record to fall back on, Der Standard notes:

“There's an interesting approach which, however, would need to be properly formulated to become an actual strategy. The only successful intervention of the EU - together with the US - in the Balkans has been taking place since 2015 in Macedonia. Experts were dispatched there to investigate the infiltration of the state by the ruling party at the time. If Macedonia really becomes a role model and if the EU dares to dismantle the security structures and judiciary in all states, perhaps fewer people will want to leave them. But one thing is clear: this would require far more commitment and take a long time.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Still no viable strategy!

The EU accession strategy for the Western Balkan states is still far too vague, Jutarnji list criticises:

“To gain more political influence in the region the EU must also show more political resolve. For words to have clout they must not be unclear or inconsistent. There is no unity regarding the Western Balkans in the EU, at least apart from a flowery speech maintaining that stability must be lastingly strengthened and a European perspective developed in the region. What's needed to secure more influence and success is a clear stance and more political courage, not just action based on the lowest common denominator.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

Don't be taken in by pseudo reforms

The Western Balkan countries are still far from achieving European standards, Handelsblatt writes in view of talk of a specific accession date:

“Romania and Bulgaria are a sad reminder of how mistaken early EU accession can be. They were allowed to join as early as 2007 and simply weren't ready. The EU has been paying the price ever since. ... Europe must learn from the negative experience in Southeast Europe. Quality must come before speed as far as EU expansion in the Balkans goes. Europe must not be taken in again by pseudo reforms on the part of countries that impersonate democracies. ... Citing a specific year for EU accession is nothing but political negligence and could cost Europe a pretty penny.”

Adevărul (RO) /

Not a security risk but a growth factor

Romania must assume an active role in the EU expansion in the Balkans, political analyst Mihai Sebe recommends on the Adevărul blog portal:

“For a long time the Balkans were synonymous with political and economic instability and seen as a group of countries that 'produce more history than they can consume' (Winston Churchill). And Romania tried to set itself apart from the Balkans at the symbolic level. But now the time has come for us to return to a region that we never really left. Romania can make an outstanding contribution as the champion of the West Balkan states' European integration. ... A Balkan region that was integrated into the EU would be a secure, stable and democratic region in which clear rules are respected, and would no longer represent a risk to security but a growth factor.”

Dnevnik (SI) /

Misplaced arrogance

The EU is in no position to place high demands on accession candidates, Dnevnik believes:

“The EU is demanding that future members solve all their problems before being allowed to cross Europe's threshold. That's understandable: who wants to saddle themselves with new problems with obstreperous new family members? However, such an attitude is rather egoistical and hypocritical. The EU is not what you'd call a model for new members as far as unity is concerned, either at home or abroad. If they could these future members would love to solve their internal and external problems on their own. But because that's not possible they need help. Some things can only be solved with EU membership, and not just with vague promises.”