EU divided on Balkan expansion in face of Russia fears

 

EU foreign ministers held talks on the Western Balkan strategy in Sofia, Bulgaria on Feb. 15, 2018.
EU foreign ministers held talks on the Western Balkan strategy in Sofia, Bulgaria on Feb. 15, 2018.

European Union foreign ministers have failed to reach agreement on a proposal to expand into the Western Balkans, citing problems such as ethnic wars and alleged criminal activities there.

Meeting in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia on Thursday, the EU ministers discussed for the first time plans by the European Commission envisioning 2025 as a target date for Serbia and Montenegro to be admitted to the bloc.

While the foreign ministers of Hungry, Poland, Austria, and Italy welcomed the proposal, top diplomats of the EU’s leading powers Germany, France, and Slovenia expressed reservations about the move.

Berlin remains very reluctant, pointing to alleged rule of law deficiencies in the bloc’s newer member states, such as Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, and Hungary.

“I’ve just come from Serbia, and in Kosovo, the situation is exceptionally difficult,” said German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel. “We will speak frankly about this today.”

Among the persisting issues complicating the Western Balkans’ integration with the West is Serbia’s refusal to recognize the independence of its former province Kosovo.

Moreover, Slovenian Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec said he believed that even 2025 was “not realistic” as a goal, insisting that the Western Balkan states would need more time to resolve their differences and meet the criteria for admittance into the EU.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also expressed caution.

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