EU warns Western Balkan leaders: Stop playing with fire!

The EU has told Balkan leaders “to stop playing with fire, and set aside their political quarrels” – Reuters reported from Thursday’s summit of regional prime ministers held in Sarajevo.

EU Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn spoke at the gathering “of six Balkan countries” that Reuters said “want to join the EU but are growing concerned at the resistance from some EU states to taking in any new members from ex-communist Eastern Europe.”

And although “the prospect of EU membership has for years been the main driver of reform in the Balkans after a decade of war and upheaval,” the EU – whose own summit last week “reiterated its commitment to the region’s European perspective” – has now placed expansion “firmly on the backburner” as it struggles with its own problems.

“Analysts and diplomats” are quoted as saying that EU’s “leverage in the Balkans” has therefore significantly weakened, while “an overwhelmingly poor region troubled by ethnic tensions, endemic corruption and a worrying drift towards authoritarianism.”

“I really cannot recall a time like now when member states and others actively approached, even pushed, me to check what items could be quickly delivered to the Western Balkans to support the region,” Hahn is cited as saying, and adding, addressing the participants:

“Use this rare window of opportunity. I don’t think you can afford to squander this positive climate through domestic confrontations and blaming neighbors. Otherwise, we end up in a really awkward spot – with a stream of bad news slamming the window firmly shut. This is playing with fire.”

Hahn also, said Reuters, “appeared to allude to Russia” when he warned of “unprecedented levels of involvement from further east” – while US policy towards the Balkans under President Donald Trump was “still unclear.”

“Partially formulated”

The summit in Sarajevo adopted a joint statement, saying that ” European prospects are crucial for mutual cooperation and progress of individual countries in the entire region.”

It also expresses “commitment to continuing regional cooperation and work on infrastructure projects and European integration.”

The statement said that the PMs “had met to confirm their obligations, assess the progress made to date and initiate preparations for the next summit, to be held in Trieste, Italy, on July 12.”

Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia-Herzegovina Denis Zvizdic, who hosted the gathering, said that the initiatives presented during the meeting of officials of Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo were “partially formulated in the joint statement,” Beta reported.

“Our message is that we wish the European prospects to remain present, we want a more active and frequent presence of EU representatives and a greater volume of investments in the Western Balkan region,” Zvizdic told a news conference after the summit’s end.

Zvizdic said that projects were proposed during the meeting, which should be realized in every country and in the region, primarily in the fields of transportation and energy, and that the EU should assist in their realization.

In his words, the goal of the summit was to present and define joint interests and initiatives for the next Western Balkan summit in Trieste in mid-July.

“This is a good message to the region and the EU, that we can talk and reach agreements on joint interests, for as long as European prospects exist for the region, which will continue to be the crucial base for the further development of cooperation, understanding and trust in the region,” Zvizdic said.

(B92, 16.03.2017)

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