Brussels will move this Tuesday to Tirana. The Twenty-Seven of the EU will meet at a summit in Albania with the leaders of six Western Balkan countries in order to reinvigorate a partnership considered even more essential in the context of the war in Ukraine.
Enlargement policy has returned to the top of the agenda in recent months, European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said on Friday in Belgrade, calling on the EU to “keep up the momentum”. Balkan countries, stuck in the EU’s antechamber for years, have often expressed frustration with a long and demanding integration process, most recently seeing the bloc quickly grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova.
Countering the influence of China and Russia
The war in Ukraine has also underlined the importance for Europeans of stabilizing this fragile region of south-eastern Europe, of countering the influence of Russia there as well as that of China, which has invested in infrastructure of these countries.
In July, the EU thus finally opened accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania (candidates since 2005 and 2014 respectively). These talks have also been ongoing for several years with Montenegro and Serbia. In October, the Commission recommended granting candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina, a decision that will come to the European Council on December 15-16.
For Kosovo, on the other hand, the obstacles to a candidacy are numerous. This former predominantly Albanian Serbian province proclaimed its independence in 2008, which Belgrade does not recognize. Five EU countries do not recognize it either (Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia).
The question of the fight against irregular immigration
The summit will also focus on concrete cooperation issues. The EU, which remains by far the leading trading partner of the Western Balkans, is going to confirm a package of one billion euros in subsidies, which should make it possible to attract public and private investment, and to mobilize a total of at least 2 .5 billion euros. An agreement must also be signed with telecom operators in the region to reduce roaming charges between the EU and the six Balkan countries in 2023, with a view to gradually eliminating them by 2027.
Cooperation on security, and in particular cybersecurity, must also be strengthened. Another priority is the fight against irregular immigration: the Balkan route is the main migratory route to the EU. The number of arrivals by this route in the first ten months of the year increased by almost 170% compared to the year before, which prompted the Commission to present an action plan on Monday, proposing in particular the deployment of the Frontex agency in these countries.