In anticipation of the effects of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on Europe, the European Union is holding a one-day summit in Tirana, Albania, with leaders from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.
European Union leaders and their Western Balkan counterparts are meeting at the Albanian capital Tirana in the backdrop of the Ukraine war that could potentially reshape the geopolitical balance in the region.
The EU wants to use the one-day summit in Albania’s capital on Tuesday to tell leaders from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia that they have futures within the wealthy economic bloc and give them concrete signs rather than just promises, that they will join one day.
Since Russia's attack on Ukraine in February, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, has been repeating that stepping up the bloc’s engagement with the six nations is more crucial than ever to maintaining Europe’s security.
As Europe’s relationship with Russia deteriorates further because of the war, tensions have also mounted in the Balkans, and the EU wants to avoid other flashpoints close to its borders.
European Council President Charles Michel, who is jointly chairing the summit, hailed it as a “symbolic meeting” that will cement the futures of the six countries within Europe.
“I am absolutely convinced that the future of our children will be safe and more prosperous with the Western Balkans within the EU, and we are working very hard in order to make progress,” he told reporters.
Last month, he had pointed out the “several crises” looming in the Western Balkans and added that “partners feel the immediate damaging impact of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine”.
“The shockwaves of this war are hitting the Western Balkans. To counter that, we are stepping up our engagement as the Western Balkans remain our geostrategic priority — the closest and most important geostrategic priority.”
According to a draft of the declaration to be adopted at the summit, the EU will repeat “its full and unequivocal commitment to the European Union membership perspective of the Western Balkans” and call for an acceleration of accession talks with the incumbents.
In return, the EU expects full solidarity from its Western Balkans partners and wants them fully aligned with its foreign policies.
That particular point has been problematic with Serbia, whose president, Aleksandar Vucic, claims he wants to take Serbia into the European Union but has cultivated ties with Russia.
Although Serbia’s representatives voted in favour of various UN resolutions condemning Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, Vucic has refused to condemn Moscow explicitly. As a result, his country has not joined Western sanctions against Russia over the conflict.
Although the progress of the six nations toward EU membership has stalled recently, there has been some progress over the past few months.
This summer, the EU started membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia following years of delays.
And Bosnia and Herzegovina moved a small step closer to joining the economic bloc when the commission advised member countries in October to grant it candidate status despite continuing criticism of how the nation is run.
Kosovo has only started the first step, with the signing of a Stabilization and Association Agreement. It said it would apply for candidate status later this month.
Among the concrete measures to be adopted in Tirana, a deal involving telecommunications operators that will bring down data roaming charges will be announced.
Discussions will also focus on the adverse effects of energy and food security from Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.
The EU last admitted a new member — Croatia, which is also part of the Balkans — in 2013. Before that, Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007. With the withdrawal of the United Kingdom in 2021, the EU now has 27 member nations.
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