Are the Western Balkan countries stuck in an abusive relationship with the EU? This is a question that deserves to be asked before the last EU-Western Balkans summit which is being held today in Brdo pri Kranju in Slovenia. The abuses do not take the form of economic sanctions, military action, or anything particularly dramatic. And yet, if the details of this relationship were published on a newspaper problem page, there’s a good chance the advice would be, “Run for the hills and don’t look back!”
Brussels says it remains committed to bringing WB6 – Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo – into the family. The commitment dates back to the Thessaloniki declaration at the first EU-Western Balkans summit in 2003 (on the picture). And yet, 18 years later, the only Thessaloniki participant to have joined the club is Croatia.
Montenegro has been dragging its feet in negotiations since 2012, and Serbia since 2013, with no end in sight despite a target date for membership of 2025. Albania and North Macedonia have received European Commission approval to start negotiations, but not the crucial green light from the European Council. The reason: Bulgaria exercises a veto, demanding that North Macedonia recognize that the origins of its language and its people are Bulgarian. And to think that North Macedonia has already changed its name to avoid a Greek veto. Meanwhile, Kosovo remains unrecognized by five EU member states – and Bosnia is a lifelong hopeless case.
Despite all this, the people of BM6 still want to join the EU. In a recent poll in Serbia, 57 percent gave a thumbs up; the positive sentiment is even stronger in North Macedonia and Albania. But such faith might not last forever; after all, if you change the name of your country and you still don’t get the green light, it will dampen your enthusiasm a bit. The EU27 must show commitment in deeds and words – and keep its promise to the BM6.
Guy De Launey is Monocle’s Balkans correspondent. You can read more about him in today’s edition of “The Globalist” on Monocle 24.