EU no longer agrees on Balkan membership guarantee, diplomats say
* The EU will hold a summit with the Balkans on 6 October
* The rich countries of the North are wary of enlargement
* The head of the European Commission begins a tour of the Balkans
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS, Sept. 28 (Reuters) – The European Union, fearing a political backlash in member states, can no longer agree to give a guarantee of future membership to the six Balkan countries once promised a place in the club, according to four diplomats and an internal document.
A deadlock on a declaration for a summit of EU and Balkan leaders on October 6 is a low point in the EU’s strategy to integrate Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia in the block. This coincides with a surge of tension on the border between Kosovo and Serbia https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/nato-increases-patrols-near-kosovo-serbia-border-blockage-2021-09- 27.
At the summit, the EU planned to reiterate its pledge made 18 years ago to “unequivocally support the European perspective of the Western Balkans”, according to a draft summit declaration dated September 11 seen by Reuters . It has been the subject of at least two rounds of no-deal talks, diplomats said.
EU states do not disclose their positions, but rich northern countries like Denmark, France and the Netherlands fear a repeat of the hasty accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 and migration poorly managed workers from Eastern Europe to Britain which turned many Britons against the EU.
Bulgaria is against the accession of North Macedonia due to a language dispute.
Even if some terms are eventually accepted, the unease reflects the paralysis of the EU’s plan to build a “ring of friends” from Ukraine to Tunisia by offering closer ties, trade and aid.
Instead, China https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-silkroad-europe-montenegro-insi-idUSKBN1K60QX and Russia are encroaching on investment and influence. In January, Serbia was the first European country to receive Chinese COVID-19 vaccines for mass inoculation.
The EU is also indirectly exacerbating tensions in the region of 20 million people, diplomats say, as citizens of the Balkans https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/eus-balkan-strategy-losing-local- support-internal-paper -warns-2021-05-12 dreamed of joining the EU after the ethnic wars of the 1990s as Yugoslavia disintegrated.
NATO troops stepped up their patrols in Kosovo on Monday near border crossings which were blocked by local Serbs angry over banning cars with Serbian license plates from entering the country.
Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 and has started military maneuvers near the border.
“They have to behave badly to be noticed,” said a senior EU diplomat in Brussels involved in Balkan politics. “There is a deterioration in the Balkans stemming from the loss of interest in EU capitals.”
The EU and the US have appealed for calm and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday began a three-day trip to the six Balkan countries to show the executive’s commitment European in the region.
During her first stop in Albania, von der Leyen said she kept the promise that “Albania’s future is in the EU”.
But the EU’s credibility has been shaken, especially after France and the Netherlands temporarily halted the enlargement process two years ago and Bulgaria now blocks it.
Kosovo and Serbia feel abandoned by the United States, after being invited to the White House a year ago by then-President Donald Trump to strike a deal to normalize economic relations, to see it fail. The EU has broken its promise to allow visa-free travel to Kosovo.
Enlargement-friendly states, including Austria, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and the Baltic countries, blame Germany and France for not pressuring Bulgaria to lift its veto. Albania’s progress has also been halted as it is linked to North Macedonia in the enlargement process.
“As long as you have so many Member States, for one reason or another, who think it is not right to expand the European community further, then we are really not going anywhere,” said John O ‘Brennan, expert in European integration. at Maynooth University in Ireland.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott)