union européenne

As Ukraine and Moldova receive candidate status, Western Balkan states voice frustrations over prolonged integration process, Die Welt reports
European Union members are locked in heated debates after Ukraine and Moldova were granted candidate status, Germany's Die Welt reports. The news comes amid Western Balkan states voicing their frustration of the admittance process.

According to Die Welt, Thursday's summit between 27 EU leaders and six heads of government from the Western Balkans was expected to be a big breakthrough in regards to accession talks. Among the topics announced was the long-awaited accession process for North Macedonia and Albania, who have been on the EU waiting list for 17 and eight years respectively.

However, those talks never came to pass, after Bulgaria expressed opposition to the acceptance of North Macedonia, citing their long-running disputes over language, history, and the rights of the Bulgarian minority living in North Macedonia.

Since the accession process can proceed only under unanimous support, Bulgaria's opposition effectively put a veto on the talks, which in turn put a halt to talks for Albania, since it is next in line after North Macedonia.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama blasted the summit as a "terrifying show of incompetence" and expressed his disappointment, stating that "not even a war in Europe, which could become a global catastrophe, was able to bring about their unity," as quoted by Die Welt.

Meanwhile, Austria and Slovenia, with support from the Czech Republic and Hungary, reportedly tried to convince other EU members that the Western Balkan state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had been promised accession since 2003, also had to become a candidate for membership.

"It needs the same rules for everyone. We must not use double standards in the accession process," Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer was quoted as saying. "It is a matter of fairness and a question of credibility," he added.

However, not all of the EU leaders were on board, according to Die Welt, with some stating that the bloc was "not at all prepared for Bosnia-Herzegovina" and that it was "not possible" to reach a decision on the issue during Thursday's summit.

As the debate grew heated, some leaders reportedly pointed to the flawed and inconsistent logic in the accession process, noting how Bosnia has been required to fulfill extensive conditions before being granted candidate status, while Ukraine and Moldova were allowed to fulfill them after they were named candidate countries.

Die Welt notes that the debate ultimately amounted to nothing but a promise from the EU Commission to bring the topic up again during the next EU summit in October, where a concrete date for Bosnia's candidate status talks would be discussed if the country carries out all the reforms, particularly in election law, required by the EU.

However, for Bosnia-Herzegovina, that promise may turn out to not mean much as the country is set to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in early October while the population grows increasingly frustrated over the lack of accession prospects.

According to Die Welt, during the heated debates, some EU leaders also pointed to the hypocrisy of the leaders of the EU's top economies, such as France and Germany, who had previously opposed Ukraine's membership in the bloc only to make a complete U-turn on the issue following their visit to Kiev.

Austrian Chancellor Nehammer reportedly noted that, "Germany and France were more than skeptical" about Ukraine's status before they came under pressure in their own countries for "doing too little" for Kiev.

While the support of French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz may have been the primary reason Kiev was ultimately granted the path to membership, Die Welt notes that the decision to grant Ukraine and Moldova candidate status means little in terms of actual changes, as it does not entail any legal obligations and could still take "decades" for full-fledged membership to be achieved.

Candidate state says it hopes to join EU in 22nd century - Albania's PM

Albania, which was granted EU-candidate status eight years ago, still maintains hopes that it could join the bloc sometime in the 22nd century, the Balkan country's Prime Minister Edi Rama joked during an EU summit in Brussels.

"Of course, we'll continue on our European path with hope that in the next century we'll be members," Rama said on Thursday.

The sarcastic comment was made after the EU-Western Balkans summit in the Belgian capital, which brought no conclusive results for Albania and other EU-hopefuls in the region.

Brussels had failed to overcome Bulgaria's veto on launching accession talks with North Macedonia in time for the meeting.

It also stalled the bloc's negotiations with Albania as the EU-membership bids by the two neighboring countries are bundled together.

According to Rama, the problem wasn't only about Bulgaria's stance, but about the bloc's overall unwillingness to add new members.

The Albanian premier said he was planning to make several statements during the talks with the European Council president, but "Charles Michel said that we have three minutes each, and I said that 30 seconds would've been enough if you fulfilled your promises."

"They don't hear us as Europeans, but as guests in a divided house," he complained.

It was "disturbing" that even such events as the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian offensive in Ukraine, which Rama believes could well escalate into a global conflict, weren't enough to persuade the EU member-states to find common ground on expansion, the politician said.

Also on Thursday, the European Council decided to grant Ukraine and Moldova the status of EU candidates.

Speaking on the sidelines of the EU-Western Balkans summit, the Albanian prime minister warned Kiev against any "illusions" that its candidacy will turn into actual membership any time soon.

"North Macedonia [has been a] candidate for 17 years, if I have not lost count. Albania, for eight. So, welcome to Ukraine," Rama commented.