“The place of the Western Balkans is inside the European Union,” EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in his keynote speech on Thursday. But how serious is the EU in its commitment to continue the integration process? Euronews answers.
EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, and British Prime Minister Theresa May, headed to Poznan, Poland, on Friday for the final day of the Western Balkans summit.
“Geography is destiny. The Western Balkans are part of Europe: we share the same history, the same geography, the same cultural heritage and the same opportunities and challenges today and in the future.
"We are each other’s destiny. So let there be no doubt that the place of the Western Balkans is inside the European Union,” EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in his keynote speech on Thursday.
But how serious is the EU in its commitment to continue the integration process?
Where do Western Balkans countries stand in their accession process?
Out of six of the Western Balkans’ EU aspirants, Montenegro and neighbouring Serbia are next in line to join the EU, though neither is likely to become a member state in the foreseeable future.
They have been told they must root out organised crime, corruption and nepotism and reduce red tape first, and the political elite in both countries is deeply divided into pro-EU and pro-Russia camps.
Last month, the Commission recommended opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. It remains to be seen whether the Council will follow up on the recommendation in October.
North Macedonia hopes the resolution of its long-running name dispute with Greece will be its ticket in.
Albania, perceived as one of Europe’s most corrupt countries that has failed to combat money laundering, faces stronger resistance from northern European states.
Is there enough support for enlargement?
France and Germany are at odds on whether the EU should move towards further enlargement.
“I am more than sceptical toward those who say that the future of Europe lies in further enlargement when we can’t find agreement between 28 nations,” French President Emmanuel Macron said earlier this week amid frustrations over finding candidates for the EU top jobs.
In contrast, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has publicly expressed support for North Macedonia beginning accession talks.
She said on Friday that while she agreed with Macron's concerns on reforming EU processes, but said it didn't need to affect the accession process for Balkan countries.
"I share President Macron's view that the EU's working mechanisms must be improved," she said.
"I don't see that as an abandonment of the accession talks."
“We cannot give up on enlargement. This would not be in German nor European interests,” German State Minister for Europe Michael Roth said. “Accession is linked to clear requirements. It has to stay like that.”
Enlargement requires unanimity, meaning Macron would have the power of veto. The Netherlands also sided with France when the pair first unexpectedly blocked the start of EU talks for Albania and North Macedonia in June 2018.
When push comes to shove, however, it is unclear whether Macron would wield a veto — especially if Germany is in support.
Is the EU losing clout in the Western Balkans?
Srecko Latal, Regional Editor of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) said other countries beyond the EU, are interested in the Balkans.
"The European Union is still the safest and the best option for the Balkans," said Latal, "but the big question is whether realistically the enlargement is still on the table or not, and when I’m talking about realistic terms it means something that can be, not only something that can be achieved within 10 to 15 years but also something that will bring concrete consequences like projects, investments, job opportunities immediately."
“People don’t see this, and because of this people are turning more and more towards other influences like the Russian, Turkish and Chinese. Chinese money is much more available, it comes without strings attached," added Latal.
Will anything be decided at the summit?
Euronews Brussels correspondent Jack Parrock said no specific decision was to be expected at the summit today.
"What we can expect is some tough talks between some of the senior officials from those countries and the EU," he said, referring to the frustrations of North Macedonia or Albania who feel they have done everything that was required from them and yet see no progress in their accession process.
North Macedonian media reported its prime ministers would meet with France’s Philippe on the sidelines of the conference this Friday to try and secure a commitment for a date for accession talks.
Watch more on the Western Balkans summit by clicking on the player above.