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EU-Western Balkans Summit: what way ahead after the coronavirus crisis?

New developments are afoot in European enlargement policy! The European Council decision of 26 March to open EU accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia has lent fresh impetus to EU-Western Balkans relations. In particular, in a time of crisis such as this, there is a need to offer Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo a clear pro-European perspective and to shape our partnerships with these countries in the long term.
An essential step in this process is the EU-Western Balkans Summit under the Croatian Council Presidency, which brings EU and Western Balkan leaders together today, 6 May 2020. Despite the coronavirus crisis, the summit is still taking place, online of course, bodes well for future cooperation. The EUR 3.3 billion in emergency coronavirus aid announced by the European Commission ahead of the summit is also a positive step. But it can only be the first step, as it is even more important to involve the countries of the Western Balkans in the EU’s recovery plan in the long term. The detailed economic and investment plan for the region, to be published later this year, must be firmly based on the Green Deal and the Paris Climate Agreement to promote sustainable development in the region and not undermine the EU’s climate protection efforts. The climate crisis will not wait for the coronavirus pandemic to end. We need practical measures to promote the green industry, create jobs, and protect the EU and the Western Balkans environment, so we are not left unprepared for the next crisis. Green proposals for post-crisis reconstruction have already been drawn up.
It is ultimately not enough for the Council and the Commission to promise the Western Balkans’ countries a ‘European perspective’ if at the same time EU accession negotiations are stalled. Holding out the prospect of EU accession and then dashing hopes will cause frustration in the long run. It could prompt the region’s countries to look instead towards Russia, China, Turkey or Saudi Arabia. The Council needs to present a detailed timetable and exact prerequisites for EU accession. The Western Balkans have always been part of Europe, and the EU is the region’s most vital partner. It is in our shared interest to build a closer long-term cooperation.