The Western Balkans and the European Union. A Realistic Plan or a Distant Dream?

Al Jazeera Balkans Journalist Tatjana Dordevic Simic, Chief Negotiator of the MFA of Montenegro Zorka Kordic, Secretary of State of the MFA of Poland Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, Secretary General of the Assembly of European Regions Christian Spahr

Until recently, enlargement of the European Union was one of Europe’s foreign policy priorities. For the Western Balkans, membership in the European institutions was and still is considered the main mechanism for security, peace, stability and democracy in a region that defines itself as a ‘troubled area”.

However, in times of crisis, it seems that the EU’s enlargement policy is no longer so important for EU countries. At the same time, the lack of concrete actions of some EU member states has resulted in a gradual loss of interest in the “EU perspective” by some Western Balkan countries.

Today, 25 years after the end of the war in the countries of the Western Balkans, there are only two countries (Slovenia and Croatia) that are the part of the EU, and other countries are stuck in what seems to be a democratic process of transition of which no one sees the end.

The question is – Does the EU’s enlargement policy still have an important place on its agenda? Can we still speak of the term of enlargement as a realistic plan or has this process become a distant dream?

During this panel, we discuss with Mr. Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek, Secretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Zorka Kordic, Chief Negotiator, Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Montenegro and Mr. Christian Spahr, Assembly of European regions from Germany

The Secretary of Poland, Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek said that Poland gives all its support to Western Balcans countries in their process of integration to the European Union. “Poland example clearly shows that accession is a difficult process, but it is worth all the efforts – Poland has achieved an immense success in the past 30 years, and the EU accession was pivotal part of it”, said Szynkowski vel Sek.

Last July, the Secretary of State visited Bosnia and Herzegovina, meeting with the Polish community, visiting the Polish Military Contingent and talking with the president of the Republic of Srpska, then meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Josip Brkić. The ministers discussed bilateral, political and economic relations, regional cooperation, EU enlargement policy, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina’s relations with NATO.

Bosnia and Herzegovina presented its application for membership of the European Union in 2016, and still remains the last country in the region without an answer about its membership status, except Kosovo that has not yet applied for membership.

Chief Negotiator of the MFA of Montenegro Zorka Kordic and Secretary of State of the MFA of Poland Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk

Unlike Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro submitted the application for EU membership in December 2008. Candidate status was granted in December 2010 and the opening of accession negotiations took place in June 2012. Montenegro has opened all of its negotiating chapters and according to the new methodology, will have to fulfill the interim benchmarks in Chapters 23 and 24 to advance further in the accession process.

To the question, what are the next steps for Montenegro and what can we expect from implementing the new methodology in Montenegro in the future, the Chief Negotiator, Zorka Kordic said that Montenegro is determined to achieve substantial democratization of society through reform. “Substantial reforms in the field of the rule of law are the absolute priority of this Government, which coincides with the remaining obligations in Chapters 23 and 24”, said Kordic, adding that Montenegro is a young country that, through the process of European integration, is transforming and learning about the democracy of developed countries. “What is important is that there is a consensus in society on the issue of our geostrategic affiliation, and that is EU membership”, concluded Kordic.

The year 2021 gave governments a new perspective on the issue of citizen participation. Important political decisions are not possible without the citizens’ participation. Mr. Christian Spahr said that the importance of civic participation is an important instrument for achieving social progress and faster integration into the EU was emphasised.

All the panelists agreed that the European Union cannot be complete without the Western Balkans. The full membership of the Western Balkan countries in the European Union is a common goal of both the Western Balkan countries and the EU, and the citizens should take a more active and visible role in the negotiation process.