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Austria pushes to speed up EU accession for Western Balkans, especially Bosnia

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Austria insists on speeding up the EU accession process for Western Balkan states, particularly Bosnia-Herzegovina, to ensure the region’s stability and protection from foreign influence as Brussels focuses on Ukraine’s EU bid, according to Euractiv.

While the European Commission recommended opening accession negotiations with Ukraine and Republic of Moldova in November, it only recommended this for Bosnia and Herzegovina on the condition that the country first meets the required degree of compliance. However, Austria is pushing to speed up accession talks with the Western Balkan countries and open accession negotiations with Bosnia as soon as possible.

“Accelerating the accession negotiations with the Western Balkan states is a clear priority for me before we talk about other possible accessions,” Austrian Defence Minister Klaudia Tanner said in a statement during a visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Europe “must not lose sight” of its “immediate neighborhood amidst all the crises in the world,” Tanner also stressed.

“The Western Balkans, and Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular, are an important partner for Austria when it comes to the further development of stability, regional co-operation and European integration in this region,” she added.

Next week, EU leaders will gather in Brussels to discuss opening the accession talks with Ukraine and Republic of Moldova. In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg already stressed that negotiations with Bosnia should be opened as soon as possible and that the issue will also be on the agenda at the next meeting of the European Council.

“There will be a very heated debate, and we want the signals to be equal in both directions for geostrategic reasons,” he said. The move would be significant for countering Russian influence in the region.

The EU granted Bosnia and Herzegovina the status of a formal candidate country in December 2022. In October, the foreign ministers of Austria, Slovenia and Croatia published an op-ed in which they had already pushed for a swift opening of accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, arguing that the move would be of geopolitical importance.