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The future of the European Union promised to the Western Balkans is still hazy MPNRC

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EU leaders will this week seek to extend support to six Western Balkan countries, which have long been knocking on the bloc’s door, and can no longer see the war in Ukraine far beyond their borders, amid fears that Russia may change its vision on its territory.

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The two-day summit starting Thursday in Brussels is expected to approve the European Commission’s proposal to grant EU membership status to Ukraine and Moldova’s candidate, the start of a long process that the Western Balkan Six has for years. had started earlier.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has heightened the urgency to bring the historically unstable Western Balkans under the fold of the European Union as some states in the region – mainly Serbia – are increasingly moving towards Moscow, both politically and militarily.

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The Election Commission has repeatedly told Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia that their future lies within the 27-nation bloc. But progress has stalled – for all kinds of reasons. Countries are at various stages of negotiations and meeting several membership requirements, with Montenegro leading the pack and Kosovo not even starting talks.

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French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said the war in Ukraine makes it even more necessary that the six countries find a new approach.

Why all the fuss?

The Kremlin has been saying for years that it considers the Balkans its area of ​​”strategic interest”, although the six western Balkan states were never part of the Soviet bloc.

Russian officials say they do not mind joining the European Union, but when Albania, Montenegro and North Macedonia joined NATO, and when Bosnia announced plans to join the alliance, they strongly opposed it. did.

Tiny Montenegro was warned it could be targeted by Russian long-range missiles after Ukraine joined EU sanctions against Moscow.

What is the role of Serbia?

Serbia, the largest of the six countries, is significant in Russia’s regional influence. After a brief pro-Western government in the early 2000s – when the country began its EU accession bid – former ultranationalists took power 10 years earlier, leaving Serbia more inclined towards traditional Slavic allies Russia and China.

Still formally seeking EU membership, and although the EU is by far Serbia’s largest trading partner, Belgrade refused to align its foreign policies with those of the bloc, including imposing sanctions on Moscow. is included.

Pro-Putin propaganda is so widespread in state-controlled media that support for an EU bid by Serbia to join the bloc for the first time is less than 50%. Top EU officials have told Belgrade it will soon have to make up its mind whether it wants to continue on its EU path by adhering to its policies and standards.

And Bosnia?

After the European Commission tapped Ukraine for candidate status, many asked why multi-ethnic Bosnia – which went through a bloody war in the 1990s – did not receive equal status. EU member Slovenia said it would propose Bosnia’s candidacy at this week’s summit.

The move to allow Ukraine to leapfrog others in the long candidacy line has rekindled fears in the western Balkans that the region could be left behind as the EU focuses on Ukraine and its neighbor Moldova.

Bosnia has faced open threats from Russian officials for its plans to take NATO membership and has also been destabilized by separatist threats from Bosnian Serbs, who control nearly half of the Balkan country.

North Macedonia: Loud Neighbors

North Macedonia applied for EU membership in 2004, and is awaiting the start of its accession talks, despite repeated obstacles placed by neighboring EU members.

Greece previously required that the country known as Macedonia change its name, saying it lay claim to the northern Greek province of Macedonia. In 2018 the country agreed to rename itself North Macedonia, in the hopes that it would unlock its EU bid.

But then Bulgaria vetoed the membership talks, pending the settlement of its disputes with North Macedonia that involved historical and cultural issues. France said it was making a last-ditch effort to address the problem – though it didn’t help that Bulgaria currently faces a new political crisis.

What about Montenegro?

Tiny Montenegro has fulfilled most of its EU membership obligations, but is still far from becoming a member.

It has imposed EU sanctions on Ukraine against Russia, eliciting angry reactions from the Kremlin. It has also managed to deter attempts at destabilization from both Russia and neighboring Serbia after joining NATO.

Albania: Collateral damage

Albania’s candidacy bid has been put on hold mostly because it is linked to North Macedonia, which is being blocked by Bulgaria.

Prime Minister Adi Ram said he would try to separate the two processes if there is no progress at this week’s EU summit.

But in a recent visit to Kyiv with Montenegrin counterpart Dritan Abazovic, Rama said both still fully support Ukraine’s request for EU candidate status.

“No one should speculate with the fact that because Europe hasn’t kept its promise to us, we don’t feel good that it is now taking action for Ukraine,” Rama said.

Kosovo: behind the line

Kosovo, a former Serbian province that broke up after a separatist insurgency and a NATO bombing campaign against Serbia, appears to be in the last line for membership talks, declaring independence in 2008. Five EU states do not even recognize it as a country, and its UN membership has been blocked in the Security Council by Serbia’s allies Russia and China.

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