The EU expressed full support for the membership perspective of the six Western Balkans countries and called for acceleration of the accession process, it is stated in the Declaration that is to be adopted at the EU—Western Balkans Summit in Tirana on 6 December, as reported by RTS who had access to the draft version of the document.
The declaration also expressed full support for the mediation of Josep Borrell and Miroslav Lajčak in the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština and the search for solutions for other regional issues, as Danas reports.
In the declaration which will be adopted at the Summit, held for the first time in one of the countries of the region on 6 December, EU leaders supported the idea of gradual integration of the region already in the accession phase, announced financial assistance of one billion euros to alleviate the consequences of the energy crisis and emphasized the importance of the partnership between the EU and the Western Balkans in light of the war in Ukraine.
The joint declaration called for increased integration of the region with the EU common market and announced the abolition of roaming between EU countries and the Western Balkans. At the same time, the EU calls on the countries of the region to adhere to “basic European values and principles, in accordance with international law”, “principles of democracy and the rule of law” and to speak more clearly in public about the advantages of partnership with the EU.
Diplomatic sources state that this time there was no disagreement among the member states on whether to include full membership as the final goal in the declaration draft, which marked the preparations for last year’s EU-Western Balkans summit on Brdo near Kranj.
“In light of the new geopolitical situation in Europe, the member states understand that a clear message to the region is needed, especially after the granting of candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova,” the sources said, as RTS reported.
The initial paragraph of the declaration stated that “escalating Russian aggression against Ukraine calls into question peace, European and global security and emphasizes the importance of the strategic partnership of the EU and the Western Balkans”.
EU leaders “strongly urge partners in the Western Balkans” to make progress towards full alignment with EU foreign policy, including restrictive measures.
“Standing shoulder to shoulder with the EU at the time of Russian aggression against Ukraine is more than ever before a clear sign of the strategic orientation of the partners”, the EU leaders stated and welcomed the efforts of the countries that have already fully aligned.
The draft declaration assessed that Russia bears “sole responsibility for the current energy and economic crisis” and emphasized that the EU will continue to support the region in response to the negative consequences for the economy and society.
EU leaders called on the European Commission, the Council and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to “further advance the gradual integration of the region already in the accession phase, in a reversible manner and according to merit.”
The draft declaration welcomed the “declared will of the partners in the region to give primacy to democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights” and underlined the “importance of fighting corruption and organized crime, supporting human rights, minority rights and gender equality.”
“A strong civil society, independent and pluralistic media with full respect for freedom of expression are key elements of any democratic society, which is why we support their role in the Western Balkans,” it is stated in the declaration according to RTS.
The EU is the region’s closest partner, the main investor and trade partner and the largest donor, the declaration stated, with the assessment that “the exceptional size and scope of this support should be more visible”.
“Partners should clearly point this out in their public appearances and debates so that citizens are aware of the concrete benefits of partnership with the EU.”
Urgent harmonization of the countries of the Western Balkans with the EU visa policy is of key importance for migration management and for the overall sustainability of the visa-free regime between the region and the EU, according to the part of the declaration dedicated to migration management, the fight against terrorism and organized crime.
The EU member states agreed on the text of the EU-Western Balkans Summit Declaration and invited the countries of the region to join it.
The declaration will be formally adopted on 6 December at a meeting of European and regional leaders in Tirana.