Leaders of three Western Balkan countries – Serbia, Albania, and North Macedonia – on Thursday criticized the European Union for moving slowly on their membership process.
At a news conference after the EU-Western Balkans summit in Brussels, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic vowed that his country will exert every effort by December and before the next summit.
“I will not say that we will celebrate, but I think we will be in a better mood in December than today,” he said.
Serbia, he added, supports the idea of a European political community proposed by French President Emanuel Macron.
Vucic said he has been under pressure over the Ukraine war, but emphasized that he was not in Brussels to justify Serbia’s stance.
Almost entirely dependent on Russian gas and oil, Serbia has so far refrained from joining other regional countries in sanctioning Moscow for the war.
“Since the beginning of the Russian attack on Ukraine, 2,629 articles have been published in European media saying that Serbia is endangering the entire region of the Western Balkans, endangering the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina and ‘so-called Kosovo.’ I am not here to justify our position,” he asserted.
Serbia is currently engaged in accession negotiations with the EU, although talks with North Macedonia and Albania have been on hold since 2020.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama expressed disappointment over the EU’s attitude on the region’s integration into the bloc.
Bulgaria is not the only problem, he said, adding that the EU was tired of the entire enlargement process.
“North Macedonia has been waiting for 17 years for its EU membership talks to start, and Albania for eight years,” said Rama.
In late 2020, Bulgaria refused to approve the EU’s negotiation framework for North Macedonia, saying it could not support the start of the bloc’s long-delayed accession negotiations with Skopje because of disputes over history and language.
“From one common vision and community, the EU has become an instrument for individual members to stop something,” he said, terming the issues with Bulgaria “unfortunate.”
“One country imposes something of its own, and the other 26 cannot do anything about it. There are many allegations that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is ill, but I can’t say that this house looks healthy here,” he added.
He said the EU should understand Serbia’s constraints, and that it is not appropriate to demand that Belgrade abide by all of the sanctions that the EU has imposed on Russia.
“Contrary to all expectations, Serbia has supported Western resolutions three times, and even voted to expel Russia from the UN Human Rights Council,” Rama said.
He added that Serbia “is not in a position to accept all sanctions against Russia so quickly” as that could have repercussions.
Dimitar Kovacevski, the prime minister of North Macedonia, said EU enlargement to the Western Balkans should be seen as an investment in the bloc’s security, particularly in the context of the Ukraine war.
“What has happened now is a serious problem and a serious blow to the credibility of the EU. North Macedonia and Albania, but also the region, cannot remain stuck in this situation because one country refuses to coordinate and open the European path to us,” he said.
Kovacevski said North Macedonia will seek guarantees from both Bulgaria and the EU, calling on the bloc to deliver on its existing promises before making new ones./aa