The European Union‘s 27 leaders promised future membership to their six Balkan neighbours on Wednesday, restating a pledge first made 18 years ago, but they brushed aside calls for a 2030 goal for fear of a backlash at home over migration, according to Reuters.
After weeks of deliberation, EU leaders agreed that Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania have a place in the world’s largest trading bloc if they fulfil the criteria on areas from judicial reform to economics.
But with the “enlargement process” was blocked by various disputes in Brussels and Serbian political leaders reluctant to ever recognise Kosovo’s 2008 independence, many in the Balkans feel the EU declaration is an empty statement.
“The EU reaffirms its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans,” the final summit declaration said. “The EU reconfirms its commitment to the enlargement process,” it said, although leaders insisted that the bloc focus on “credible reforms by partners, fair and rigorous conditionality and the principle of own merits.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the Balkan countries “family”, while French President Emmanuel Macron struck a conciliatory tone, saying the Balkans were “at the heart of Europe” and deserved a pathway to membership.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said setting a deadline for accession went too far for many EU states. “I don’t really believe in setting dates, I believe in making good on our promises: Once the conditions are met the accession can take place,” Merkel told reporters.
Taking the 27-nation club to 33 members would complicate its strained decision-making and require internal EU reform that few states want to embark upon, something that Macron and EU summit chair Charles Michel acknowledged to reporters.