Published: Fri, May 18, 2018
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Macron pours cold water on Balkan EU membership hopes

Macron pours cold water on Balkan EU membership hopes

The western Balkans was plagued by war and civil unrest in the 1990s and Brussels has said all would-be members from the region must crack down on corruption and organized crime and improve their democratic standards to stand a chance of joining the bloc.

According to a draft statement seen by RFE/RL, the agreed compromise is that it would be called "the Sofia declaration" but with a statement in brackets, after the 16 points of the declaration, saying that "we note that our Western Balkans partners align themselves with the above points".

"Western Balkans is already the region that gets the highest per capita investment of all EBRD regions", EBRD President Suma Chakrabarti told Reuters in Sofia, where he will be attending an EU-Western Balkans summit on Friday.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was "not in favour of moving toward enlargement before we have all the required certainties and before genuine reform has been made" even as he added that the Balkan states should be anchored in the bloc.

European Union leaders are meeting their counterparts from six Balkan countries in Sofia, a day after a dinner that sought to forge a united front in the face of US President Donald Trump's "capricious assertiveness" on the Iran nuclear deal and trade tariffs.

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European Council President Donald Tusk said it took too long to hold EU-Western Balkans summit, therefore, it had been decided that the next one would be held in two years.

The summit will not focus on bids by the region's six non-EU countries - Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania - to join the bloc, but rather will tackle their efforts toward closer integration with the bloc, European officials said. The new strategy prescribes a possibility of European Union accession for some candidates by 2025. Bulgaria's prime minister recently warned Russian Federation and China will otherwise gain toeholds in the region. "We don't want that to happen".

However, Merkel added: "As for compensating all businesses in a comprehensive way for such measures by the United States of America, I think we can not and must not create illusions". Asked about the name of Macedonia, he replied that this was not within his authority.

Unlocking talks for Macedonia - officially known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) - could also be tricky for the European Union as they squabble over naming.

Representatives from Greece and Macedonia met on the fringes of the Sofia summit in an attempt to finally come to an agreement. Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy decided against travelling to Sofia because of it.

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