Western Balkans in limbo - how much longer?
Representatives of the European Union and the Western Balkan states met on Wednesday in Slovenia to discuss EU enlargement, among other issues. But since the member states have not been able to agree on a concrete accession date for Serbia, Albania or northern Macedonia, a sense of disappointment prevails in the candidate countries. There are good reasons for the delay, commentators point out.
Caution is well founded
The delays cannot be blamed on the EU states alone, Népszava insists:
“On the one hand it's clear that the countries of the Western Balkans also belong to the European family. ... On the other hand, experience with Hungary and Poland shows that no country should be admitted to the EU until it guarantees it will respect the rule of law. ... One member state alone can already do great damage to the EU, and most of the Western Balkan countries are not mature in terms of adherence to the rule of law.”
Don't hesitate any longer
Even if some concerns are well-founded, the EU should meet the Western Balkan states halfway, Kathimerini argues:
“Of course, credible reforms that can safeguard democracy and the rule of law must be implemented, and corruption must be clamped down on – these are moves that will first and foremost benefit these countries' citizens. And while it is true that most of these countries are lagging behind on this front, such procrastination is a two-way street. The further away the prospect of accession seems, the harder it will be for pro-European politicians in these countries to sell much-needed and often painful reforms as a prerequisite for accession. And this, in turn, takes some of the shine off the EU in the eyes of many citizens.”
Constand demands without any reward
Just what does the EU want from the Western Balkan states, Večernji list asks:
“It wants them to continue to reform and to embrace European values such as democracy, freedom and the rule of law instead of slipping into dictatorship, nationalism and conflict. It wants the states to coordinate more effectively to form free regional markets modelled on integration within the EU. But it wants them to do this outside the EU. So the EU doesn't want success in this enterprise to mean automatic admission, but is adopting a 'you do it and we'll see' attitude. Put like that, the strategy sounds rather crude, which is why nobody is coming out and saying this, but that's how it is. So is there any point to holding summits like this one?”
Lack of confidence could backfire
The EU should offer the countries of the Western Balkans a clear perspective, Die Presse criticises:
“The European Union has lost its self-confidence. ... Anyone who lacks self-assurance can't be a role model. And that is just the situation with countries like Serbia or Albania. ... For lack of a precisely defined path towards the EU they are now drifting further away, orienting themselves towards dubious illiberal models or letting themselves be lured by Russia and China. True, the EU must put its own house in order. But it will find even more dirt on its doorstep if it continues to disappoint its devoted neighbours.”