Hungary warns about growing foreign influence in the Balkans

Hungary's data protection watchdog has harshly criticised the government's plans to centralise citizens' data. [European People's Party/Flickr]

The growing influence of Moscow and Ankara in the Western Balkan region is raising concern among the leaders of European centre-right political parties, who have called for a revival of EU aspirations in the region. euractiv.com reports from Malta.

The EU should “not get caught up in enlargement fatigue” and the bloc should keep alive a pro-EU spirit in Western Balkan countries by backing their EU membership aspirations.

This was the message in the resolution adopted last week in Malta by the annual congress of the European People’s Party (EPP), the alliance of centre-right and conservative political parties.

But centre-right leaders made it clear that fulfilling the Copenhagen political criteria and commitment to maintaining good neighbourly relations remained paramount for accession.

EU leaders concerned over ‘return of Balkan demons’

EU leaders voiced concern yesterday (9 March) about “external influences” fueling division in the western Balkans, as Britain announced a summit to focus efforts on stabilising a key region vulnerable to Russian meddling.

Russia and Turkey

The resolution warned about increasing influence of foreign countries, “especially from the east and the south”, on a political and financial level, highlighting disinformation campaigns as part of the arsenal.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said stronger EU engagement was needed to counter those threats.

“If we are hesitant or slow to bring them more rapidly closer to us, others will not hesitate and drift them away from the EU,” he said, underlining that no one would like to see such a scenario.

Croatia to coach Bosnians on how to join the EU

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.

Sources told euractiv.com that discussions among centre-right leaders focused on Russia and Turkey, whose objective is to weaken the EU.

“They know that lower stability in the Western Balkans is a risk for Europe and we know that in the long term there is no alternative than joining the EU,” the sources said.

Russia: Commission should play a more positive role in the Western Balkans

Speaking to EURACTIV.com, Russia’s Ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, criticised the European Commission’s handling of the crises in Macedonia and Kosovo, and regretted the “hysteria” over alleged Russian interference in Montenegro.

EU and US made “huge mistakes”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán claimed that the EU was faced with a “foreign policy crisis”, with a destabilised Ukraine and boiling Balkans.

Orbán said the EU had made “huge mistakes” in those regions, pointing out that its failed policies have contributed to the destabilisation of the Middle East and North Africa.

“The fact that we committed this together with the Americans is not an excuse. We acted like pyromaniac firefighters,” he said, calling for a new EU foreign policy.

For the Hungarian conservative leader, stability in the Balkans calls for a new election in Skopje “as soon as possible”.

“We have to accept Montenegro as soon as possible and speed up the accession of Macedonia and Serbia. My homeland is the gateway to the Balkans. I see every day how Russian, Turkish and American influence is growing while the EU is decreasing,” he warned, saying such bad policies needed to change.

Russia accuses NATO, EU and Albania of meddling in Macedonia

Russia accused Albania, NATO and the European Union yesterday (2 March) of trying to impose a pro-Albanian government on Macedonia, which is gripped by political crisis.

Young people and the EU

Siegfried Mureșan, a Romanian EPP MEP, told EURACTIV that support for Western Balkans membership is there but that countries needed to make progress primarily in reforming their judicial systems, fighting corruption and cementing the rule of law.

Asked how this delay could affect pro-EU young people in the region he replied, “It’s a matter of time for this old establishment to lose”.

“It will not happen as fast as the young people hope, but the experience from my own country shows that corrupt politicians never thought they would lose and now they are losing,” he said.

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