Visegrad countries back opening of accession talks with North Macedonia, Albania

(L-R) Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban pose for photographers during the Visegrad Group (V4) and Western Balkan partners summit in Prague, Czech Republic, 12 September 2019. [Martin Divisek/EPA/EFE]

Four eastern European Union members on Thursday (12 September) backed the accession of Western Balkan countries to the bloc, saying North Macedonia and Albania should start talks this year.

Visegrad-Four (V4) group premiers from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia made the statement at a summit with counterparts from five western Balkan states in Prague.

“The Visegrad-Four group wants to welcome new EU members and it fully endorses the opening of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania this year,” Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini told reporters.

EU puts 'North Macedonia' and Albania on hold until the European elections

The European Union agreed a compromise on Tuesday (26 June) whereby it would open negotiations to join the bloc with Albania and Macedonia in June next year, provided a string of conditions on rule of law, crime and corruption are met.

In a joint statement, the V4 leaders called on the EU to accelerate ongoing accession talks with Montenegro and Serbia.

The V4 also said reforms adopted by Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo would bolster the two countries’ hopes of joining the EU.

“The re-unification of Europe cannot be complete unless the entire Western Balkans region joins the European integration process,” said Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, whose country currently presides over the V4.

“The EU enlargement policy is the most efficient tool to support stability, security, democracy and prosperity in Western Balkans,” he added.

“Security in the Balkans also means security in Europe,” Babiš said.

Polish Premier Mateusz Morawiecki warned that if the EU fails to “come up with an offer for southern European countries or the Western Balkans, countries like Russia, Turkey or China will be very active there.”

Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia attended the Prague summit.

“If the EU hadn’t slept on accepting North Macedonia and Serbia as members, there would be fewer illegal migrants in Europe,” Hungary’s outspoken Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said at the meeting.

V4 countries have clashed with western EU members over migration policy, among other issues, with several of them refusing to accept migrants and asylum seekers during Europe’s 2015 migrant crisis.

A former Serbian province, Kosovo only sent its ambassador to the summit after Czech President Miloš Zeman accused its leaders of being “war criminals”.

“The Hague tribunal recently issued news where it expressed suspicion about the war crimes of Kosovo representatives, and I think the prime minister resigned because of this. Let me say a personal opinion that a war crimes-led state should not be located in the community of democratic countries,” Zeman said.

The pro-Russian, pro-Chinese Zeman also said he would ask the Czech government to reconsider its 2008 recognition of Kosovo’s sovereignty.

Premier Babiš has ruled this out, saying there was “no reason for the Czech government to change its standpoint.”

Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj resigned in July ahead of his questioning by a Hague-based court investigating alleged war crimes by fighters from the Kosovo Liberation Army two decades ago. He has since acted in a caretaker role.

In response to Zeman’s statement, Kosovo said it was pulling out of a 12 September summit in Prague where several western Balkan countries will meet with prime ministers from EU members the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, according to a Czech government spokesperson, RFE/RL reported.

Not all Visegrad countries have the same position on Kosovo. Slovakia, together with Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Spain, doesn’t recognise Kosovo as an independent state.

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