Brussels (Brussels Morning) Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel argued on Monday that the accession of the six Western Balkans countries to the EU is in the bloc’s best strategic interests.
Talking to reporters after an online conference of Western Balkans leaders and the EU, Merkel emphasised that it is in the Union’s best interest to “drive the process forward”. She indirectly hinted at the potential dangers of growing Chinese and Russian influence in the region, where countries forming a “hole” in the EU are growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress in their efforts to pursue accession.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated that the EU’s first priority is to accelerate the enlargement agenda in the region, and to support the six countries in their attempts to deliver the reforms necessary for accession.
Merkel also noted that France’s President Emmanuel Macron had “very clearly” declared his support for the prospects of the six remaining non-EU Balkans’ states to become members. All six states – Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Kosovo – have expressed their desire to join the EU eventually, although their progress has mostly stalled for a variety of reasons.
Of the six, Serbia and Montenegro have progressed the furthest, each having opened accession negotiations. Both have encountered systemic issues such as rampant corruption, with Serbia’s progress also hampered by its ongoing dispute with Kosovo.
Albania and North Macedonia still await the start of negotiations, since the EU prefers that the two countries begin the process at the same time. A linguistic dispute with Bulgaria is holding up the North Macedonian accession, since Sofia insists that the Macedonian language must be treated as a dialect of Bulgarian.
On the EU side, many European citizens and political office-holders are caught in a web of so-called enlargement fatigue, with open calls to halt or pause the process until the Union has reformed and is sufficiently resilient to be able to expand once more without experiencing significant setbacks.