European Western Balkans

Reuters: Disappointment in the enlargement deep in the Western Balkans, internal EU document says

European Council meeting; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – The European Union must recognise that Balkan countries seeking membership are losing faith in Brussels’ long accession strategy, worsened by its initial failure to provide COVID-19 vaccines, according to an internal EU document seen by Reuters.

“We need to acknowledge that despite the steadfast commitment to EU integration … the people in the region are experiencing a sense of deep disappointment in the enlargement process,” said the May 5 paper by EU officials and sent to EU’s 27 foreign ministries, Reuters reports.

“A perception of tardy EU delivery of the COVID-19 vaccines has further fed a narrative of disillusionment,” said the paper, which, according to this news agency, was prepared for Monday’s meeting of foreign ministers, who discussed the Balkans but did not take formal decisions.

The widespread perception in the Western Balkans is that the prospect of accession is receding and that European inspirations are lost under a complex set of conditions and procedures,” the internal report said.

The bloc is now sending 650,000 doses of Western-made vaccines to the six Balkan countries, but only after China and Russia distributed millions of their doses in the region.

Monday’s discussion on the Western Balkans was the first time in two years that the Foreign Affairs Council took stock of the Western Balkans.

The foreign ministers decided on the principles of a more active political engagement with the region, while a new meeting on concrete proposals should be held before the summer, said High Representative of the Union Josep Borrell

“Some ministers were complaining because of this (long period without addressing the region). Western Balkan is a big geopolitical program. It is not just about the accession. Accession is part of the solution, but there are many other problems related to the Western Balkans. We have to look at the WB from the geopolitical perspective, and that is what we did today. That’s what we’ll do next week with the leaders”, said Borrell, adding that he had invited regional leaders for a working dinner in Brussels next week, following in the footsteps of his predecessor.

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