An increasing number of migrants are making their way into Europe through the Western Balkans.
What challenges does this pose for the transit countries?
Euronews has been speaking to Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, about the influx of people desperately searching for a new life.
He attended the Western Balkans summit in Vienna in late August.
Natalia Richardson-Vikulina, euronews:
“How are you going to convince some European Union countries like Denmark, Hungary or the United Kingdom to participate even more in resolving this (migrant) crisis, to find a common European answer?”
Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations:
“I think the very recent events and for instance this human tragedy of people having died in a truck in Austria. The dead people in the Mediterranean. All this has created an understanding, an attitude also in the public which helps us to react coordinated and together.
“And I think this has convinced – if you like it or not – also national politicians. And if you take all the comments of politicians here in Vienna at the Balkan summit, they all expressed that only a European answer is the right one.”
“Participants of the Western Balkans summit in Vienna recognised that we should pay more attention to the Western Balkan route of refugees. But what can it mean in concrete terms?”
“First of all we have to recognize that the number of refugees arriving to Central Europe through the Western Balkan routes has significantly increased since June. We observed six times more refugees arriving via the West Balkan route.
“I am saying this because it is not a problem of the West Balkans. The Western Balkan countries are transit countries in that respect. So that’s why there is a joint interest and a common interest to address this issue. And this is the reason why the European Union has provided money.
“We just announced that we will provide Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia with 1.5 million euro in order to address the issues of giving refugees shelter first, so to say support, but it is also important to stabilise our external borders. To address the issue of refugees when they try to arrive in Europe, to be more clear about the fact, is somebody able to get asylum or not.”
“Western Balkan countries already have huge domestic problems. Do you think that consequences of this migration crisis will delay their European path even more?”
“So far I do not think so. If you take all the discussions at the Western Balkans summit and also the preparatory work in the run up of the summit, there is a clear European perspective expressed not only by the participants here at the summit but also in the conclusions.
“But things have to change. It is about changing the societal conditions, the societal environment, it is about developing the economy. So we have to address different issues in order to prepare the countries to become members of the European Union.
“But clearly this summit has shown that the European family is interested to have this part of Europe sooner than later a member of the European Union.”
“But the European Union has a lot of refugees also from Western Balkan countries. Do you think it is good idea to give them work visas, to allow them to work in the European Union?”
“I think this is something we have to discuss with all our member states. Also here, individual solutions from my point of view are not the best ones. Because this would create another kind of differentiation which I believe is not very helpful.
“So we have to address these issues, we have to discuss this issue. But I think most of the people, in my experience, at least 80 percent of the people like to stay where they were born. And to move somewhere else is so to say the second best solution.
“And that’s why the focus should be on the development of the economy in the region. People are partly excellent educated and skilled. And they should have the opportunity to do their activities in the region itself.”
“President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said nearly one year ago that he didn’t think there would be another enlargement in the next five years. Do you think it was a right political message to send to the Western Balkans?”
“I agree it has triggered some irritations. But negotiations to take over the acquis communautaire (EU legislation) is something else. But to have sustainable changes based on legal changes is something else and takes time.
“And that’s why we have to be clear and to be fair and transparent that it will not be possible to have accession within this mandate but – and this is the very important message – we don’t waste time.
“And it is up to the candidate countries how fast this procedure, this process is. It is up to them. From our side, I am always saying there is no speed limit.”