Western Balkans on focus

Future of the region lies in Europe, Greek FM tells conference in Thessaloniki

Photo: EPA Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias (L) talks to his North Macedonia's counterpart Nikola Dimitrov (R) during the conference.

Europe cannot exist as a whole, stable and prosperous alliance without integrating the Western Balkans. This was the main messages from a conference on the European perspective of the region held last Monday in the Greek port city of Thessaloniki, news wires reported. The foreign ministers of Greece, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy and Slovenia as well as representatives of the Commission and the Western Balkans states attended the event.

“The Western Balkans are an intrinsic part of Europe and the EU's enlargement policy is its most powerful tool for ensuring stability and security in the region,” Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told the conference held under the motto “From Thessaloniki 2003 to Zagreb 2020”. Taking place three months ahead of key EU-Western Balkans Summit in Croatia in May, the meeting of regional and European foreign ministers was aimed at discussing ways to overcome objections from within the EU to the enlargement.

“The EU and the Western Balkans need to look at the future and examine issues like the rule of law, human rights and bolstering democratic institutions, but also promoting economic and social development and competitiveness,” Dendias said in his opening address. “Any failures in the enlargement process will have direct consequences, mainly on us, so it is imperative that we are united,” the Greek foreign minister told his Balkan colleagues, urging them to put aside reservations about the benefits of joining the EU. “The future of the Western Balkans cannot lie anywhere but in Europe,” Dendias stressed.

Northern Macedonia Foreign Affairs Minister Nikola Dimitrov stressed that this was a very symbolic gathering, given that it was held in Thessaloniki 17 years after the first summit there, when Europe promised the Balkans that its future was with the EU. “It is also a call to adopt decisions for accession negotiations with Northern Macedonia and Albania before the Zagreb Summit,” Dimitrov concluded.

Montenegro Foreign Minister Srdjan Drmanovic expressed confidence that the decision to start EU accession talks with Northern Macedonia and Albania would send a positive signal for enlargement policy and further reform activities in the Western Balkans. “In this regard, it is encouraging from the new European Commission, which stated that one of its priorities will be the enlargement,” he said.

The conference participants expressed the expectation that 2020 could be a better period in terms of the negotiation process, in which candidate countries must continue to be committed to work, but also that the EU would return with dedication and renewed energy to the enlargement process. According to Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic the most important thing is that the enlargement policy remains high on the EU agenda in order to keep the Western Balkans European perspective alive

Brussels has already started membership talks with Montenegro and Serbia, but Albania and North Macedonia were blocked from opening accession talks by France, Denmark and the Netherlands in October, while Bosnia and Kosovo are still far behind.

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