Wednesday, August 5, 2020

EU-Balkans summit crowds out enlargement

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“It was to be a big celebration celebrating the revival of European integration …”sighs Sébastien Gricourt, director of the Jean-Jaurès Foundation’s Balkan Observatory.

Twenty years after the EU’s extended hand to the countries of the Western Balkans, at the Zagreb summit in 2000, the second Zagreb summit, which brought together on Wednesday 6 May, by videoconference, the leaders of the 27 and six Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia), had to be a great symbolic date confirming, after the mistakes of recent years, the resumption of the accession process of the countries of the ‘the former Yugoslavia and Albania.

Certainly Albania and North Macedonia have finally obtained a theoretical green light for the opening of negotiations at the end of March. But, due to the Covid-19 crisis, the summit will be mainly devoted to the management of the pandemic. The framework for discussions with the two countries now in the European anteroom is postponed until later. As the “Economic and investment plan” long-term in the region.

Brussels shines through its inertia in the region

EU comes to the top with a financial envelope of 3.3 billion euros, half of which in the form of loans from the European Investment Bank, to meet humanitarian needs, economic and social recovery and health needs immediate (the coronavirus has so far caused nearly 500 deaths among the 18 million inhabitants of the six countries).

→ EXPLANATION. Coronavirus: what does the European Union do?

But “Unrivaled financial support”according to Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi had been slow to arrive, after aid from China, Turkey and Russia, albeit less, but accompanied by media hype. And the ban on the export of European medical equipment had applied to the Balkans, before the blunder was rectified.

The future of the Western Balkans “lies clearly in the European Union”

The chairman of the committee, Ursula von der Leyen, nevertheless confirmed on 29 April that the future of the Western Balkans “Is clearly in the European Union”. For the moment, Brussels is shining with its inertia in the region. “Kosovo is going through a major crisis with the direct involvement of the United States of Donald Trump who came to support President Thaci who wants to save his skin and tighten his power against the new democratic government of Albin Kurti and the EU is absent”, notes Sébastien Gricourt.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, plagued by ethnic divisions, remained stranded as the end of the year marked the 25th anniversary of the Dayton Accords which ended the war.

The legacy of war has been underestimated and Europe lacked political ambition deplores the former director of the Enlargement Directorate General in Brussels, Pierre Mirel, in an interview with the European Western Balkans news site, the May 4. He also doubts that without a real Marshall plan allowing “To buy reforms” in these countries, authoritarian leaders – except in Albania and North Macedonia – “are genuinely interested in undertaking key reforms which will challenge their power very deeply”.

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