BRUSSELS – There could be no stronger incentive to overcome regional disputes and normalise relations than if the region would receive a clear message that all six countries will join the EU at the same time, writes Bekim Çollaku for Euractiv.
Former Minister of European Integration and currently Chief of Staff to the President of Kosovo believes there is no other option for EU enlargement towards the Western Balkans than to announce that all six countries will join together – in one go -, at the time when the worst performer fulfils the accession criteria.
Çollaku thinks that this has the potential to bring about regional cooperation and integration – based on EU rules – and to normalise bilateral relations in the region.
Mentioning the European Commission’s enlargement strategy as a positive incentive in the Western Balkans, he explains it has, however, caused a backlash of reactions within the EU.
Çollaku believes the first EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia will present a significant opportunity to push the enlargement agenda forward, although there are reports that some of the EU member states may not be present at the event.
“The only adequate response to this backlash is to forge ahead with even more resolve. It is clear that the EU institutions would like to enlarge the Union further. The Commission and the Parliament are actively pushing each Western Balkan country closer to the EU, to the extent that is in their power,” writes Çollaku for Euractiv, adding that this is the time to pursue enlargement vigorously since the current Commission is at the end of its mandate.
He also believes the EU should simplify and straighten its communication on the Western Balkans.
“Currently, the communication is the product of a multitude of fora and formations and it is usually followed by a number of footnotes and disclaimers. Indeed, it serves nobody’s interest to remain muddled in the communication with the aim to on the one hand appease eager candidate and potential candidate countries, while on the other, comfort EU-sceptics that they need not worry about further South-Eastern expansion.”
He claims that neither of the parties – the EU or the Western Balkans – have an alternative to the Western Balkans being part of the EU.
“The region is surrounded by the EU, every one of the Western Balkans six is in favour of membership and as they eventually will fulfil the Copenhagen criteria it will be very difficult for the EU to justify a veto,” adding that any further stalling is counterproductive.
He believes that the right approach of the EU to the Western Balkan countries would be if all six countries would join the EU at the same time and only when the worst performer meets the criteria.
“A common approach to all six countries would have the potential to change the narrative of Western Balkan EU accession. It could focus less on the threat of non-enlargement and concentrate more on the opportunity of the region’s accession – expansion of the single market and a more genuine spread of European values in the world,” writes Çollaku for Euractiv.