EU leaders to woo west Balkan states but road to membership bumpy17 May 2018 | 01:57 | FOCUS News Agency
Spain does not even recognize the independence of Kosovo, which will attend the Sofia summit along with Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, and EU governments also worry about a string of other problems afflicting the region.
But after years of neglecting the six, the EU has been spurred into action by the growing influence of other powers in the region, which in 2015-16 also became a main route for a wave of migrants from the Middle East and Africa heading to wealthier European nations to the north.
EU chairman Donald Tusk made this point before the summit. “It will be an opportunity for both sides to reaffirm that the European perspective remains the Western Balkans’ geostrategic choice,” he said. “I hope to bring our Western Balkan friends closer to the EU.”
As Britain is on the way out, the bloc’s executive European Commission has proposed that EU leaders decide in June to open formal membership negotiations with Albania and Macedonia.
“The risks to Europe are zero,” said Prime Minister Boyko Borissov of Bulgaria, which itself joined the EU in 2007 with neighboring Romania.
“If we do not embrace... the Western Balkans and do not help them - yes, many of them are not ready and they have yet to catch up - then there is no reason to be angry that the influence of the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia will be greater than that of Europe,” Borissov added.
But many in the EU feel differently.
As the bloc is still recovering from economic and migration crises that have fueled euro-scepticism among its own voters, doubters point to problems ranging from organized crime in Albania to Macedonia’s dispute with EU member Greece over its name, which is blocking Skopje’s aspirations.
Rajoy has decided to leave Sofia before the western Balkans meeting and EU officials say no one from the Spanish delegation will pose for the symbolic joint photograph on Thursday - a reminder that Madrid is just one of five member states that do not regard Kosovo as a sovereign nation.
Madrid, locked in a dispute with Catalan separatists at home, refuses to recognize Kosovo’s split from Serbia in 2008.
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