Albeit slowly, on a road strewn with obstacles, the Western Balkans are progressing towards EU adhesion. The process involves six countries: 4 are official “candidates” – Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, the Former Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) – while the other 2 are “potential candidates” (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo). It should also be remembered that several Balkan Countries have already joined the EU after the fall of the Berlin Wall: Slovenia in 2004, Bulgaria in 2007, Croatia in 2013.
The “Berlin process.” As for the Western Balkans, the institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg have reiterated several times that the future of this region of the Old Continent is set within the EU, namely
Adhesion is strongly upheld for all six States, and efforts are being made in this respect.
Moreover, in 2014 the EU launched the so-called “Berlin process”, a diplomatic, political and economic initiative strongly supported by Angela Merkel’s Germany, aimed at a speedy integration of the Balkans within the European Union. Inaugurated with a summit in the German capital, the “Berlin process” has continued with yearly meetings in Vienna, Paris and Trieste – the latter held past July.
Gentiloni’s commitment. The message that emerged in the EU-Western Balkans summit held in Trieste past July 12 is that ’“Integration between the Union and the Balkans is an irreversible strategic choice that Italy aims to make stronger and if possible accelerate”, as stated in those circumstances by Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. Several orientations emerged from the summit: first of all “the commitment to support regional infrastructure connectivity projects”, with investments under the EU budget. Secondly, “the signing of the Transport Community Treaty between the EU and the Balkans” that will serve, Gentiloni pointed out, “to open new connections within the area of the Western Balkans while improving the region’s connections with the rest of Europe.”
Progress in the EU-Balkan summit was also made in the economic domain,
that includes a permanent Secretary tasked with coordinating the various Chambers of Commerce in the Balkan Region. The summit has also “identified a strategic perspective”, namely, “an action plan to create an integrated regional economic area in the Western Balkans”, which would benefit trade and the lives of 20 million inhabitants. It is an “extraordinary prospect, although it’s not within arm’s reach”, the Premier pointed out, owing to the fact that “divisions, controversies and differences” linger on in the region, and because the processes as such are not easy. However, the EU has adopted an investment package of almost 300 million EURO for the coming years.
Differentiated realities. With regard to the road to accession, the EU periodically issues reports that examine the progress of negotiations or the bilateral relations between the EU and the Balkan States.
In general terms it can be said that for some Countries the road to accession is marked by a faster pace. These Countries are Serbia, Montenegro and Albania;
Macedonia is hindered by the difficult relations with Greece, in addition to what to date remains a weak stabilization of democracy; for Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo the domestic situation at political and institutional level further complicates the adhesion process, which nonetheless enjoys the open support of EU institutions.
Old and new problems. The periodic EU Reports addressed to the six above-mentioned States stress the need to continue carrying out wide-ranging, effective reforms throughout various sectors of national life, ranging from public administration to justice, from individual and social rights to the free market, from the freedom of expression to the protection of ethnic and religious minority rights.
For the EU, stepping up regional cooperation is of mandatory importance,
focusing on peaceful relations, for example in the economy, infrastructures, transport, energy, culture, environmental sustainability. Moreover, the EU emphasized the need to devote utmost efforts to combating organized crime, weapons trafficking, countering the drug market, which, for the EU, represent the Balkans’ major problems, with potentially pernicious effects for the EU as a whole.