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Balkan membership hopes leave EU summit empty-handed

Written by Javed Iqbal

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama arrives in Western Balkan countries to meet with EU leaders in Brussels, Belgium on 23 June 2022. REUTERS / Yves Herman

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  • Balkan says Bulgaria’s veto is a “disgrace”
  • The EU commits itself to a possible membership of the Balkans

BRUSSELS, June 23 (Reuters) – A summit between EU leaders and Balkan leaders on Thursday failed to break a stalemate over a halted EU membership bid from northern Macedonia and Albania, even as Ukraine was to become an official candidate for membership.

Separated from Ukraine’s decision later Thursday, the leaders of the six Balkan countries Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, northern Macedonia and Serbia expressed disillusionment that negotiations have not started or stalled, years after being promised possible EU membership.

“What has happened is a serious blow to the credibility (of) the European Union,” Dimitar Kovacevski, the Prime Minister of Northern Macedonia, said at a news conference following the Balkan EU summit, citing the lack of progress.

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At the summit, the EU reiterated its commitment made almost two decades ago to give membership to the Balkan countries once they have implemented deep economic, legal and political reforms.

“The meeting clearly and unequivocally reiterated the European perspective for the Western Balkans and the future of the region in the EU,” said an EU official.

But EU member Bulgaria’s veto has been in place since 2020, when it blocked accession negotiations with northern Macedonia over a dispute over history and language. Albania is also being held back because the EU has linked its progress to that of northern Macedonia.

‘IMPOTENCE’

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said it was a “disgrace” and also accused EU leaders of “impotence” for not forcing Sofia to make concessions.

“It is a disgrace that a NATO country, Bulgaria, kidnaps two other NATO countries, namely Albania and northern Macedonia, in the middle of a hot war in Europe’s backyard with 26 other EU countries sitting still in a frightening show of powerlessness. , “said Rama. journalists citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Rama, who briefly considered not attending the summit, said he made his position clear to leaders in their closed-door session on Thursday. However, the collapse of the Bulgarian governing coalition on Wednesday meant that there was no possibility of a breakthrough in Brussels. Read more

Such EU decisions require unanimity among the 27 states.

“Even a pandemic … a looming war has not been able to unite them,” Rama said of the disagreement between EU leaders, citing the Ukraine war.

However, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who represented his country despite losing a vote of confidence on Wednesday, said he hoped for support for Northern Macedonia in the Bulgarian parliament soon, without giving further details.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also said a solution could be found to the issue next week, citing hopes that Bulgaria’s parliament would meet again to support the lifting of the veto on northern Macedonia.

Balkan citizens have long dreamed of joining the EU after the ethnic wars of the 1990s, when Yugoslavia disintegrated.

But northern countries such as France and the Netherlands have halted the EU’s enlargement process’ for fear of a repeat of Romania’s and Bulgaria’s urgent accession in 2007 and the poorly managed migration of Eastern European workers to Britain, which turned many Britons against the EU.

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Reporting by Robin Emmott and Philip Blenkinsop, editing by William Maclean

Our standards: Thomson Reuters trust principles.

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Javed Iqbal

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