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Jean-Claude Juncker and EU 'enlargement fatigue'

Jean-Claude Juncker and EU 'enlargement fatigue'
By Euronews
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European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker speaks to Euronews about border disputes and EU enlargement.

Brussels has opened a new window for EU membership to six Western Balkans nations.

Euronews reporter Efi Koutsokosta met EU Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, on the last stop of his tour of Western Balkan nations — Serbia, Montenegro, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia— in Sofia. She started by asking him how realistic is it for them to join the EU given the disputes that already exist?

Jean-Claude Juncker: “We are not discussing dates, we are not discussing the end of the story we are discussing the process. And I was trying to make the governments and others of this region to understand that all the conditions and criteria for the accession have to be fulfilled, they are not, and so it takes time. The date we are indicating, 2025 is an indication not a promise. We have to know that in the old Europe, the western part of Europe but not only there, there is a kind of enlargement fatigue and this is obviously the case as far as Serbia and Montenegro are concerned. But they are doing well and we have to help them.”

More about this topic:EU opens door to Balkans with 2025 target for membership

Efi Koutsokosta/ Euronews: “But there is another factor there. Serbia has very close ties with Moscow which is quite active in the region. There are visits by the foreign minister Lavrov in the region and in Serbia recently and he went there and he warned the EU that asking from Serbia to choose is like making the same mistake as it did in Ukraine. What do you have to say on that? Is there a matter of choice?”

Jean-Claude Juncker: “There is no comparison possible between Serbia and Ukraine, number one. Number two, I was explaining to colleagues here in the region that European construction is not a construction against others, it’s an integration process for us. I didn’t ask the Serbs to make a choice because they have to have normal relations with Russia and they have the best possible relations with the European Union.”

EU enlargement | Euronews

Efi Koutsokosta: “But are you asking from them to align their foreign policy to the one of the EU, including the sanctions on Russia over Crimea?”

Jean-Claude Juncker: “All the partners in the region are aligned with the foreign policy but Serbs have a different stand because they are not participating in this sanction process. Once they come closer and closer to the European Union they have to align but this is not a short term question.”

More about this topic:EU Enlargement

Efi Koutsokosta: “But now let’s go to other countries that hope to join the EU one day and I speak about FYROM and Albania. Where do we stand now? You met the leaders of these two countries. What are the messages that you got?”

Jean-Claude Juncker: “My general message in the region and particularly as far as the two countries you mentioned are concerned, is that no country will be a member of the European Union if the border disputes are not closed. They have to put order in the region. We are not importing the instability remaining in the Western Balkans but we want to export our stability. So, all the countries wanting to become members of the European Union have to solve the border issues and we have a lot of border issues in this region.”

EU enlargement on agenda as Juncker tours Balkans | Euronews

Efi Koutsokosta: “Skopje has a longstanding dispute with Greece over the name. There is an ongoing negotiation now. What is the role of the EU on that? Do you put pressure on them in order to find a solution now? Do you see that there is a momentum?”

Jean-Claude Juncker: “Pressure is not an instrument we should use. We are encouraging the Greeks and FYROM to find themselves an agreement as far as the name is concerned. They are in a negotiation process, we don’t have to interfere.”

Efi Koutsokosta: “The Greeks ask from their neighbours to abolish any irredentist claim from their constitution. Do you find this justified given the borders’ issue in the entire region?”

Jean-Claude Juncker: “We are not interfering in this negotiation process between Greece and FYROM.”

Efi Koutsokosta: “Another thing is Turkish influence in the region especially when it comes to political influence in Kosovo, Albania, Bosnia. Erdogan’s interests today in the region are compatible to the ones of the EU?”

Jean-Claude Juncker: “Turkey is playing a role but it’s not as big as people do think but our partners in the region know that we are watching this very closely.”

Efi Koutsokosta: “But do you have the impression that if you don’t give them, these partners, something more more they will look for other partners such as Russia and Turkey as I mentioned?”

Jean-Claude Juncker: “They definitely know that it doesn’t make sense to take different avenues, there is only one avenue.”

Efi Koutsokosta: “There is another summit with Turkey to improve also relations with the EU in Varna again in Bulgaria. Do you think it’s still relevant especially given the latest developments in some member states such as Greece and Cyprus and their actions in the Western Balkans?”

Jean-Claude Juncker: “We will have probably a meeting with President Erdogan in March in Varna and we have to discuss different issues with the Turkish President and I wouldn’t like to anticipate the conduct of this debate.

Efi Koutsokosta: “Is there a possibility of cancelling this?”

Jean-Claude Juncker: “Till now it hasn’t been cancelled.”

Efi Koutsokosta: “While in Bosnia you said in front of the parliament that patriotism has nothing to do with nationalisms, this is really relevant also in the EU. What do you have to say to the EU citizens about this enlargement project when they see there is already a rift between the East and the West in the EU, when there are issues of rule of law and corruption and in the Balkans there are a lot of this kind of issues.”

Jean-Claude Juncker: “Patriotism is not oriented against others but it’s about the love you have for your own country. There is nothing wrong with that. Nationalism is oriented against others. The fight against corruption which is of paramount importance, the fight against organised crime which is of huge importance, has nothing to do with patriotism. What we are asking from our partners in the region is to take this commitment seriously, it’s not a lip service. They have to do it and they will do it and if they are not doing it, the door will be closed.”

Efi Koutsokosta:“There are also other issues like security in the region. Do you rely also on the United States which also used to be very active on the issue in this region?”

Jean-Claude Juncker: “When it comes to accession of the western balkan states and partners and when it comes to enlargement they have no say, it’s up to the European Union to make a decision not to the U.S. We are respecting them, they are welcome to make a contribution but I don’t want to have a process that on the one hand the US play a major role which as a consequence this would entail a bigger role for Russia. That’s not the way should be dealt with.”

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