| 21 May 2024, Tuesday |

EU no longer agrees on Balkan membership guarantee, diplomats say

According to four diplomats and an internal document, the European Union can no longer agree to grant the six Balkan countries originally guaranteed a seat in the club a guarantee of future membership due to political reaction among member states.

The EU’s effort to bring Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, and North Macedonia into the union has hit a snag over a statement for a summit of EU and Balkan leaders on Oct. 6. It comes at a time when tensions on the Kosovo-Serbia border are at an all-time high.

At the summit, the EU planned to restate its promise made 18 years ago to give “its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans,” according to a draft summit declaration dated Sept. 11 seen by Reuters. That has undergone at least two rounds of talks with no agreement, diplomats said.

EU states would not disclose their positions, but wealthy northern countries such as Denmark, France and the Netherlands fear a repeat of the rushed accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 and the poorly managed migration of eastern European workers to Britain that turned many Britons against the EU.

Bulgaria is against North Macedonia joining because of a language dispute.

Even if some wording is eventually agreed upon, the EU’s goal to establish a “ring of allies” from Ukraine to Tunisia by providing tighter relations, commerce, and aid remains paralyzed.

China and Russia, on the other hand, are invading with their money and influence. Serbia became the first European country to acquire Chinese COVID-19 vaccines for widespread immunization in January.

Diplomats say the EU is indirectly aggravating tensions in the 20-million-strong Balkan area since Balkan populations dreamed of joining the EU when Yugoslavia imploded in the 1990s.

NATO troops stepped up patrols in Kosovo on Monday near border crossings which have been blocked by local Serbs angered by a ban on cars with Serbian license plates entering the country.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence and has begun military maneuvers near the border.

“They have to misbehave to be noticed,” said a senior EU diplomat in Brussels involved in Balkan policy. “There is deterioration in the Balkans that stems from the lost interest in EU capitals.”

The EU and the United States have appealed for calm and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen began a three-day trip to the six Balkan countries on Tuesday to show the EU executive’s commitment to the region.


In her first stop in Albania, von der Leyen said she stood by the pledge that “Albania’s future is in the EU.”

But the EU’s credibility has been damaged, particularly after France and the Netherlands temporarily halted the enlargement process two years ago and Bulgaria is now blocking it.

Kosovo and Serbia feel let down by the United States, after being invited to the White House a year ago by then President Donald Trump to seal a deal to normalize economic relations, only to see it fall through. The EU has not kept its promise to allow Kosovo visa-free travel.

Austria, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, and the Baltic nations, among others, criticize Germany and France for failing to persuade Bulgaria to withdraw its veto. Albania’s growth has also been hindered as a result of its expansion relationship with North Macedonia.

“As long as so many member states think it is not proper to extend the EU community farther for one reason or another, we are truly going nowhere,” said John O’Brennan, an EU integration expert at Maynooth University in Ireland.

  • Reuters