The Western Balkan countries need to work more actively on their joint representation on the international level, but also in bilateral relations with the EU within the accession process was the message sent from the panel discussion The Perspective of Western Balkans European Integration after the European Parliament Election and Brexit. The event was the second debate organized within the project European Integration of the Western Balkans: Making a Realistic Perspective out of a Shifting Target, implemented by the European Movement in Serbia, the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS) from Tirana, and the Institute for European Policy (EPI) from Skopje, and financially supported by the Western Balkans Fund.
Panelists were welcomed by Jelica Minić, Vice President of the European Movement in Serbia, who analyzing the events of the year past, said it was an important year for both the EU and the Western Balkans. Moreover, she reminded of the announcements to change the Enlargement Policy, with the direction remaining unknown.
Minić concluded that political and social mobilization in the Western Balkans is important, pointing out that the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Poznan indicated the need to focus on local communities in the process of accession to the EU.
The Deputy Director of the Albanian Institute for International Studies, Alba Cela, said that “Brexit, though incomplete, directs the energy of the EU institutions to solving this internal problem, while the European Parliament elections created a whole new composition of people.
“The decision not to open membership talks with Northern Macedonia and Albania leaves us in a position to engage more actively in the dialogue, expecting a new format of the enlargement process shaped by key players in the European Union,” Cela warned.
Skopje’s European Policy Institute representative, Juliana Karai, said October was the month when Northern Macedonia for the third time in sixteen months expected to begin membership talks. She pointed to the indirect effects of Brexit on the European integration of Northern Macedonia.
“Brexit is affecting developments in Northern Macedonia because the United Kingdom is assisting the public administration reform process to a great extent, therefore Northern Macedonia is losing a stable source of support in its accession process,” she said, underlining the deepening of internal divisions after the European Union blocked the beginning of the Northern Macedonia and Albania accession negotiations. The early elections scheduled for April 2020 are, according to her, “a consequence of this decision that will affect Macedonia’s orientation towards the enlargement process.”
The Vice-President of the European Movement in Serbia, Vladimir Medjak, believes that the high turn-out at the European Parliament election was a reaction to the rise of right-wing parties, which was a wake-up call for Europeans. As one of the most important changes this election has made, Medjak cites “the end of bipartisan division within the EU institutions”.
He stresses that we cannot expect the European Commission to take a stronger role in the enlargement process because that process is being nationalized.
“The process of accession of the Western Balkan countries to the European Union must be primarily political, rather than technical, which depends on the political will. This process should be progressive, not regressive, which is why the joint appearance of the Western Balkan countries is important, and ‘mini-Schengen’ is a step in the right direction, “ Medjak concluded.
Panel members agreed that a joint appearance of the Western Balkan countries is needed, although a new format of the EU enlargement process is still unknown. The decision not to open membership talks with Northern Macedonia and Albania significantly affected the trust in the process in those countries, with repercussions on other Western Balkan countries. Another conclusion this panel came to is that the enlargement of the European Union depends on the political will of its institutions, but this process is influenced by the interests of key Member States such as France and Germany.