BRUSSELS – EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn stated in his interview for POLITICO’s EU Confidential Podcast that the project of enlarging the EU to include all of the Western Balkans is a historic mission. However, neither of the six countries seems ready to join the Union in at least seven years, and even that deadline is seen as ambitious.
Serbia and Montenegro, two countries that began accession negotiations in 2014, were given a possibility of entering the EU in 2025 via Commission’s 2018 Enlargement Strategy. However, some countries, including France, believe that the Union should reform itself first before accepting new members.
“My point is maybe a little different from [French] President Macron,” stated Hahn. “Maybe we can convince him that both have to be done in parallel”, he said, referring to the processes of EU-reform and its enlargement.
As for the remaining two countries that are recognized as candidates, Macedonia and Albania, Commissioner Hahn is “very confident” that they will be opening their first chapters next year, as promised by the Council of EU. He noted that the screening process in both of them is already underway.
“This is a very comprehensive work and I hope we can conclude it in a year to 14 months,” he said, reports POLITICO‘s website. “The aim is really to get a green light by all member states middle of next year.”
Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Kosovo, countries that have not been given a candidate status as of now, are facing more serious challenges. “They [Bosnia and Herzegovina] are living in the so-called Dayton logic. And this is not in accordance with Brussels logic,” Hahn said, referring to the fragmented political structure based on 1995 Dayton agreement.
Apart from reaching an agreement on normalisation of relations with Serbia, Kosovo is also expected to decrease its dependence on customs tariffs for revenue. That is not in the accordance to the EU single market, Hahn reminds.
Commissioner also pointed at the rising Chinese influence in the region. He emphasised significant investments in infrastructure projects by East-Asian power, such as highway in Montenegro, as well as appeal of “combined capitalism and a political dictatorship” as the aspects that could lead to China’s more prominent role in the Western Balkans.
“I think we should be aware about the strategic concept by China and react in an adequate manner. I think this will be one of the great challenges of Europe,” concluded Hahn