By endorsing only Ukraine in its efforts to become an EU candidate, the EU has neglected and humiliated another region, former Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor told N1 on Sunday, referring to the Western Balkans, whose six EU hopefuls have progressed very slowly on their EU integration path for more than a decade.
Meanwhile, Slovenia will push for EU candidate status for Bosnia and Herzegovina, EURACTIV’s partner STA reported.
The European Commission recommended last week granting Ukraine EU candidate status with a crucial decision on the matter due to be made by EU leaders this week.
“Let me be perfectly clear, full support for Ukraine, but… By giving the green light to Ukraine, the EU has completely neglected and humiliated another region. Here I refer primarily to Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Kosor said, noting that it had also been part of a bloody war.
Kosor said the candidate status alone does not mean a lot and actually entails a number of obligations, which in Croatia’s case meant fighting corruption and cooperating with the UN war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia.
“It is in that context that I see Ursula von der Leyen’s promise to Ukraine,” Kosor said calling for caution.
“Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s comment that winning the candidate status would mean a faster victory for Ukraine was very careless and naïve, and it should give all EU leaders who will be deciding about this pause for thought.”
Kosor was instrumental in unlocking Croatia’s EU accession talks, which had been blocked by neighbouring Slovenia for several years, by reaching a compromise agreement with Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor in 2009.
“Slovenia alone had blocked 14 of our 35 negotiating chapters,” she said, adding that Slovenia now demands a candidate status for Ukraine with no strings attached.
Urging Croatia’s EU politicians to highlight the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Brussels, she concluded: “I think it is really time the EU faced up to the facts, with some more political honesty and a sense of what is realistic.”
Slovenia pushes for EU candidate status for Bosnia and Herzegovina
Meanwhile, Slovenia is pushing hard to secure Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU candidacy status and according to N1 Bosnia, Slovenia will present a document demanding the urgent granting of candidate status at the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg on Monday.
Slovenia’s proposal aims “to send a positive signal to BiH, and to the entire Western Balkans region. This signal, along with launching accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania, and liberalising the visa regime for Kosovo, would confirm the EU’s commitment to the Western Balkans.”
Under the proposal, after getting the candidacy and before opening accession talks, BiH must adopt three laws, on the judicial council, on preventing the conflict of interest and on public procurement, N1 said.
President Borut Pahor addressed a letter to European Council President Charles Michel, which proposes a no-strings-attached status to bolster pro-European forces in the country, and Prime Minister Robert Golob will advocate this position at the summit of EU leaders later this week.
“The reality is such that a single member state can prevent this. I am hoping for a reason, but unfortunately, the past has shown us many times that an abuse of this instrument can occur and that individual members can then abuse the veto instrument for their own interests that have nothing to do with EU values,” Golob said on Friday (17 June).
In his talks with both Michel and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Golob said he believed that “the process linked to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia will in a way speed up processes for the Western Balkans as well.”
“In Slovenia, we believe that the Western Balkans deserves similar treatment, particularly those countries which experienced war and which are not responsible for failing to meet technical conditions,” he added.
Athens insists Western Balkans should not be ignored
Out of the six hopefuls, only Montenegro and Serbia have formally opened accession negotiations while Albania and North Macedonia have been in the waiting room for several years. The current stalemate is due to a veto from Sofia over claims Skopje does not recognise and provide adequate rights for Bulgarians in the country, as well as various other historical and cultural disputes.
Kosovo and BiH are not even potential candidates with the former unlikely to progress while four EU countries fail to recognise its independence.
As a result, confidence in the EU is falling in the region while leaders look to other initiatives such as ‘Open Balkan’ between Serbia, North Macedonia, and Albania while continuing to enjoy benefits and influence from Turkey, Russia, and China.
Amid this situation, another EU country is insisting that the Western Balkan region should not be ignored in the fresh enlargement push because of the war in Ukraine.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias recently stressed that unless Europe speeds up the integration process, other “rival” forces will gladly step in.
“Forces that promote rival political and economic agendas. Such agendas, different from the European agenda, run counter to our collective interests and seek to undermine the EU-Western Balkans relationship”, Dendias said.
The Greek foreign affairs chief added that Southeastern Europe in general and the Western Balkans in particular, have always belonged to Europe.
“Like other parts of the continent, the Western Balkans have experienced armed conflict […] Geographically, historically, culturally speaking they belong to Europe. Their bitter legacy has left behind, even today, an amount of mistrust, nationalism and lack of reconciliation”, he said.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos and Alice Taylor]