Hahn: EU ‘will never be complete’ without Western Balkan countries

Hahn (L) met with Bosnia and Herzegovina's prime minister, Denis Zvizdić, as the Balkan country's EU bid starts to gather steam. [European Commission]

Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn has praised the progress made by the Western Balkans in getting ready for EU membership and said that the bloc will “never be complete” without them.

Austrian Commissioner Hahn told Bosnian media that the European Union will “never be complete” until the Western Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia join the European club.

Hahn was in Bosnia and Herzegovina on Friday (9 December) to hand over the European Commission’s “stress test”, a series of 3,242 questions that the prospective EU member will have to answer, relating to their compatibility with Brussels’ standards. Sarajevo has six months to complete the test.

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Croatia, the European Union’s newest member, has pledged to help its neighbour, Bosnia and Herzegovina, follow in its footsteps and join the bloc as soon as possible.

The enlargement chief told Banja Luka daily Nezavisne novine that Bosnia and Herzegovina has made significant progress, evidenced by the Commission’s acceptance of its membership bid in September, but warned that further reforms are needed.

“The economies of the EU and the Western Balkan countries are interconnected. We share the same goals of economic prosperity and that is why the EU has also expanded its interest through enabling the countries of the Western Balkans to be economically ready to join the EU,” Hahn said.

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He added that: “without the Western Balkans, the EU as a union dedicated to peace, security and prosperity, a union of values such as democracy, equality and human rights across the continent will never be complete”.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has a somewhat unique system of governance that brings together the three regions of the country, which are divided along religious and ethnic grounds. Hahn said that the EU “recognises the existing order”, but suggested that amendments might have to be made to the country’s constitution.

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Enlargement has fallen off the EU’s list of priorities and the Union is more than likely to shrink before it grows again. But the Western Balkans are still aspiring EU members and a new strategy has been developed that hopes to put them back on Brussels’ immediate agenda.

The Commissioner added that “the issue is in the hands of Bosnia and Herzegovina”, but admitted there is concern about increased nationalist rhetoric in the region. He urged “everybody to abstain from this kind of rhetoric and focus on what people need”.

Hahn met with the country’s prime minister, Denis Zvizdić, to hand over the questionnaire. The Bosniak, who has been head of government since March 2015, said that he hopes political disagreement in the different regions would not hamper Bosnia and Herzegovina’s quest for EU membership.

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