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European Western Balkans
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Crucial for EU enlargement is integration of the Western Balkans

Panel on the future of Europe and enlargement; Photo: BSF / Flickr

BLED – While stressing the importance and benefits of the EU enlargement to the Western Balkans as a strategically important issue, leaders at a panel on the future of Europe and enlargement held as part of the Bled Strategic Forum, agreed on Wednesday that integration of the region into the EU will be crucial.

Slovenian President Borut Pahor was critical of the lack of progress in the case of North Macedonia, which in his words had done everything to move forward on its EU path but received nothing in return.

Slovenian President Borut Pahor has rejected the idea of redrawing the borders of the Balkans describing it as “dangerous” during his opening remarks at the “Bled Strategic Forum”.

In addition, he urged the European Union to accelerate the enlargement process as it would enhance territorial integrity.

“I believe that a change of borders cannot be done in a peaceful way. Only a swift enlargement of the EU with the states Cf the Western Balkans can strengthen the principle of territorial integrity and security in the region and beyond”, declared Pahor.

European Enlargement commissioner Olivér Várhelyi said the EU should learn a valuable lesson from the recent crisis in Afghanistan and not waste any time about the integration of Western Balkans into the EU.

“We need to talk about the integration of Western Balkans. I think this would be the right thing to discuss because enlargement is a process and it has its own phases. It’s more of an administrative process rather than a political one. Nevertheless, what we should discuss is how to make Western Balkans part of the EU and this must be realized through the process of integration, which means political and economic integration and integration of society”, Várhelyi said.

The prime minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, stressed that for his country, there was no other alternative to joining the EU.

“We do not have any other family, this is our family,” he said, pointing to the shared values. He added that North Macedonia need the next steps for further motivation.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said he was happy that Western Balkan countries had finally been invited to a talk on the future of Europe in Bled.

“We are not seeking a licence to be Europeans. We are Europeans, no matter what Europeans think … We are not talking about membership. But just open accession talks,” he said.

Bosnia Presidency member Šefik Džaferović stressed that a great majority of the Bosnian citizens support membership in the EU.

Addressing the event, Džaferovič made a reference to an earlier speech by European Council President Charles Michel, who was speaking about the EU from the aspects of economy, freedoms and security.

“That is what my country also needs, that is what Bosnia and Herzegovina needs. All its citizens want that,” said Džaferović.

He noted that Bosnia has all the reasons that other aspiring countries have had or still have to join the EU.

“There is a very important thing, that membership of the Western Balkan countries in the EU would make relative some issues that we refer to as to the Balkan stubbornness. To make relative overall relations in the Western Balkans, and to make relative the issue of borders, which are absolutely unchangeable,” said Džaferović, adding that the EU membership would make life easier in the Western Balkans.

He concluded by quoting the European Council President as saying: Western Balkans needs the European Union but European Union also needs Western Balkans.

Željko Komšić, the Presidency Chairman, also addressed the panel, speaking about Bosnia’s constitutional system.

Asked if it was possible to organise the country without the element of constituent peoples, he said it was.

“Fundamental part of the system should be an individual and his or her rights. If you protect them, you will protect everything that a multiethnic society needs to protect. Nobody will be less of a Bosniak, Serb, Croat, Roma or Jew if we give up on the principle of constituent peoples and turn to European values,” he said.

Two of Bosnia’s three Presidency members are participating, while Serb member Milorad Dodik refused to go, partly because the new High Representative in BiH, Christian Schmidt, will also be there.

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