The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused the accession process of many states to the European Union (EU) to be raised once again. One of the regions where the Russian-Western struggle has been felt is the Balkans. On the one hand, the Decoupling rhetoric of Bosnian Serbs is being discussed in the Balkans, and on the other hand, the process of dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia is being raised. In the background, the EU accession process of the Balkan countries is being discussed. In this context, the International Asia Today presents the views of Visar Xhambazi, an analyst at Kosovo-based Sbunker.
1.The German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that the EU should provide support to accelerate the accession processes of the Western Balkan countries. How do you evaluate the EU enlargement policy in the Western Balkans?
It can be said that the EU enlargement policy has been in ambiguity in recent years. The enlargement process faced serious obstacles due to the influence of factors such as anti-European and “enlargement fatigue”. Looking at the present day, the Russian-Ukrainian War could give a new momentum to the EU enlargement process. For this reason, EU member states, especially Germany and France, need to accelerate the enlargement process by going beyond rhetoric. The non-accession of non-EU Western Balkan countries such as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and North Macedonia to the union will create a geostrategic dilemma for the EU and will lead the EU foreign policy to failure. However, the extension of the accession processes of the Western Balkan countries to the EU will make the region vulnerable to external threats, which will create more problems for the union. Therefore, it is worth noting that the enlargement policy of EU is not only a technical process, but also a geostrategic process.
2. From a country-by-country point of view, the EU membership of North Macedonia is blocked by Bulgaria. The Kosovo-Serbia Issue, the political crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina are noted as other difficulties. How does all this pose a problem for the membership of the Western Balkan countries waiting on the way to the EU?
After the accession of the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus (Greek Cypriot Administration), the EU has stated that countries with ongoing bilateral disputes will not become members. In this sense, the Western Balkan countries or other states, such as Ukraine, cannot join the union without first of all resolving their disputes with their neighbors. Especially for Kosovo and Serbia, the situation is even more complicated. In addition to its troubled relationship with Serbia, Kosovo is not recognized by the five members of the EU (Greek Cypriot Administration, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain). Looking at North Macedonia, it can be said that the EU is dealing with a serious reliability problem. North Macedonia has resolved a 27-year name dispute with Greece in exchange for EU membership, but the EU has not kept its promise to pave the way for membership in the country. On the other hand, the EU should also help Western Balkan countries, such as North Macedonia, which are fighting hard for participation, to remove obstacles. In this context, it should not be allowed for some countries to veto the accession process.
3. Following the Russia-Ukraine War, the Balkan countries increased their calls for EU membership. How do you see the place of the Balkans in the future of the EU?
The Russia-Ukraine War has been a significant development for the EU enlargement strategy. In the current situation, the policy of enlargement is highly technical and bureaucratic. Therefore, it is time for the EU to consider the geopolitical consequences in its enlargement policy. The EU should takes steps for a new collective approach in the region and consider two important factors. First, the promise of membership should go beyond their rhetoric and devote more time and resources. Second, it should not allow it to interfere with countries that want to become EU members, such as France and Bulgaria. It should open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia and ensure the promised visa liberalization for Kosovo.