French and German leaders yesterday (4 July) said Britain’s shock decision to exit the EU would not influence Western Balkan nations aspiring to join the bloc.
Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia want to join the European Union. Together they are home to an estimated 20 million people.
Membership negotiations have already started with Serbia and Montenegro, but are yet to get underway for Albania and Macedonia. Bosnia and Kosovo have been promised the prospect of membership when they are ready.
However, the bloc has ruled out any further enlargement before 2020, and even that date looks unrealistic.
The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU will have hurt the accession of Serbia, and other Western Balkans countries, analysts warn.
“The British decision in no way impacts on the engagements taken in respect to the Balkan nations,” French President François Hollande said at a summit of EU and Western Balkan leaders in Paris.
“They will be respected,” he said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed Hollande.
“Great Britain’s decision has not changed anything,” she said. “That’s what these countries fear.”
She added: “We are determined to continue the process of enlargement.”
Where Britain’s Brexiteers see the EU as an interference in national sovereignty, many in the Western Balkans – a region of widespread poverty and turbulence – see the 28-nation bloc as a beacon of stability and prosperity.
Balkan players have the feeling of not being a priority for the troubled bloc – a sentiment that could be exacerbated by the EU-British divorce.