Washington and Brussels predict a new moment in 2024 related to the enlargement of the EU. This moment is compared to the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the borders of the West were redefined. The whole issue is related to Ukraine. Russian aggression in Ukraine, which started on February 24, 2022, turned European integration into a “geopolitical emergency.”
Writes: Xhelal Neziri
European Council President Charles Michell’s statements that the Western Balkans could become part of the EU by 2030 triggered mixed reactions in Brussels, as well as in the capitals of the candidate countries. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Michell’s statement was made at the Bled summit in Slovenia without consulting him, while French President Emmanuel Macron updated his old position again: “Before enlargement, the EU must deepen.” “.
But it seems that something big, historic is being prepared in terms of EU enlargement. The American envoy to the Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, and the German envoy, Manuel Sarazin, had the same orders for Skopje during their visits in August and September: now it is to make constitutional changes to take the fast train to the EU.
The whole problem is connected with Ukraine. Russian aggression in Ukraine, which started on February 24, 2022, made European integration a “geopolitical emergency”. Now Ukraine and Moldova are candidate countries for joining the Union. The six Balkan countries are at different stages of integration. Serbia and Montenegro have started negotiations since 2012, but very little progress has been made in those ten years. Montenegro initially moved more quickly toward EU integration, declaring independence in 2006, receiving candidate country status in 2010, the European Commission recommending the start of negotiations in 2011, and the first Brussels-Podgorica government meeting in 2012. Bosnia and Herzegovina recently received candidate country status after adopting a list of 14 priorities that signify reforms to the functioning of the state. North Macedonia first signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement in 2001 and gained candidate country status in 2005, when Serbia and Montenegro were still a federation. In 2009, it received the first recommendation from the European Commission to open negotiations. However, the negotiations were prevented by the veto of Greece regarding the name, by France regarding the new methodology and recently Bulgaria. Nine years after North Macedonia, Albania gained candidate status – in 2014. It received the first recommendation from the European Commission to start negotiations in 2018. Since then, Albania has also been waiting for the start of negotiations due to the French blockade first, and then Bulgaria’s. Albania’s delay was due to the fact that it was in a pack with North Macedonia. Kosovo is in the latest phase of European integration. Europe’s newest state concluded the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU in 2016 and began visa liberalization talks in 2012. The only progress has been the European Commission’s 2018 decision that Kosovo meets the criteria for visa liberalization, a decision that will take effect early next year.
Washington and Brussels are forecasting a new moment in 2024 related to the enlargement of the EU. This moment is being compared to the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the borders of the West were redefined.
“There is a real awakening that we are on the brink of a historic moment, similar to the fall of the Berlin Wall, with a new wave of EU enlargement … that will help stabilize the continent,” Benjamin Haddad, a lawmaker from Macron’s party, told Politico.
“I wanted to stop by and talk here in Skopje again. I was here before the summer and I’m here again because of the constitutional changes. I think that next month will go down in history as the beginning of a new chapter in European history, because a new trend of expansion will begin. “As I said before the summer, changes must take place, we must not waste time,” German envoy to the Balkans Manual Sarazin said Monday after the end of his visit to Skopje.
The American envoy Gabriel Escobar became more direct: this year is a rare opportunity for the European integration of the Balkans, which can hardly be repeated.
Besides the dynamics, these mobilizations of Euro-American diplomacy to solve the Balkan knot and integrate this region of 18 million inhabitants into the EU are also related to the dangers that 2024 brings.
The first danger is the possible collapse of Russia, which could lead to the disintegration of a large state with a population of 180 million. Anarchy in Russia would bring many security challenges to Europe, which could deepen differences within the EU and NATO.
The second – the danger posed by the epilogue of the elections to the EU Parliament and the President of the USA. If there is a victory of the far-right parties in these countries, this will undoubtedly be reflected in the approach of the EU and the USA to the Western Balkans and to Russia.
Third, the apparent recession of the EU may be reflected in the shift of Brussels priorities in supporting development projects in the Western Balkans, but also in the drastic reduction of European funds to deal with successive economic crises in the region.
And the fourth risk is related to the economic crisis in China, which started with a standstill in the real estate sector, but could have consequences in Europe as well.
Will the Western Balkans manage to get this historic moment right? The constructive attitude shown by the presidents of the region a few days ago in Skopje, where the Brdo-Briuni summit was held, gives us optimism that this case will not be lost.