Western Balkans: EU accession prospects unclear

At the EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia the EU has called for more consistent efforts from (potential) accession candidates Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia. In exchange it promised infrastructural measures and additional funding. Commentators discuss the six countries' accession prospects and Russia's role in the region.

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Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Only Russia can accelerate the process

Geopolitical exigencies are the only thing that can advance the accession process in the Western Balkans, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung believes:

“Russia's political influence in the Orthodox parts of the Balkans and Turkey's influence among the Muslims have increased markedly in recent years. What's more, with China and the Arab states new economic players are present in the region. It's this new constellation that has prompted the EU to highlight its own presence in the region - while at the same time carefully keeping its 'partners' at a safe distance. For that to change fundamental geopolitical developments would be needed. Hence the bold prognosis: without a serious Russian threat that prompts a substantial reassessment in terms of realpolitics, the six states of the Western Balkans will remain EU partners but won't become EU members.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

A black hole between Croatia and Greece?

The EU is only harming itself by continually postponing the accession of the Western Balkan states, the Süddeutsche Zeitung warns:

“One must not forget that the EU is by no means the only force present in the Balkans. Russia, Turkey and China are increasingly active there, securing access to markets, investing in the infrastructure and consolidating their political influence. Hence EU expansion in the Balkans is not an act of mercy but a geopolitical necessity if the EU is serious about its goal of peacefully uniting the continent. The alternative in a worst case scenario would be a black hole between Croatia and Greece which under the influence of various foreign powers and constantly menaced by implosion causes permanent instability. New wars would be a possibility, and new influxes of refugees likely.”

Večer (SI) /

Arbitration doesn't even work for member states

The many disagreements between individual Western Balkan states will continue to paralyse the expansion process after the summit, Večer believes:

“The next summit of this kind is already planned. It will take place during Croatia's EU presidency in 2020. But the Western Balkan states must do most of the work themselves. The problems between Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, between Kosovo and Serbia, and between Albania and Macedonia won't just disappear on their own. The EU must help. But the example of the arbitration agreement on the border between Slovenia and Croatia shows that it can't do this. And in this case it's a problem between two states that are already EU members.”

24 Chasa (BG) /

Successful thanks to Bulgarian presidency

Newspaper 24 Chasa is completely satisfied with the results of the summit:

“The West Balkans have secured support for future EU membership as well as ten billion euros for infrastructure projects. New infrastructure means new economic ties. ... Europe demonstrated unity in Sofia and sent a strong message to the US: We won't play second fiddle in global politics. And last but not least [Macedonia's prime minister] Zoran Zaev and [his Greek counterpart] Alexis Tsipras moved a step closer to agreement in the name dispute [over Macedonia]. All this makes the summit in Sofia and the Bulgarian EU presidency as a whole a success.”