BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Faced with the Russian aggression against Ukraine and fears of Moscow’s increasing influence in parts of the Balkans, the European Union should make a “bold move” and accept new members by 2030, the European Council president said Monday.
Speaking at an international strategic forum at the Slovenian lakeside resort of Bled attended by Western Balkan leaders, Charles Michel said that it was time for those states that have been waiting in an EU membership line for more than 20 years to be given “a clear goal.”
“We must talk about timing, we must talk about our homework and I have a suggestion as we prepare next EU strategic agenda,” Michel said. “We must set ourselves a clear goal: I believe we must be ready on both sides by 2030 to enlarge,” he said, to a big round of applause.
He said that the war in Ukraine “has shown that peace and democracy cannot be taken for granted.”
”This war is not just devastating Ukraine: this war has a profound impact on the future of our continent. It has a profound impact on global security,” he said.
EU officials fear that Russia could try to destabilize the Balkans, which went through a bloody war in the 1990s, and thus shift world attention from its aggression in Ukraine. Russia’s Balkan ally Serbia has refused to join EU sanctions against Moscow, although Belgrade says it respects Ukrainian territorial integrity.
The Balkan states are at different stages of their EU accession talks. Many have been stalling on implementing the main EU pre-conditions for membership, such as the rule of law, free elections and media.
The EU’s regular enlargement update is due in October, when EU officials are expected to report on progress in negotiations with the six Western Balkan states that have been waiting in line for more than two decades – Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo.
For Ukraine and Moldova, which also want to join, the EU will decide on opening their full-on accession negotiations at an EU summit in December.
In his speech during the opening of the Bled forum on Monday, Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob said that the EU enlargement was a pressing issue.
Some of the Balkan leaders attending the forum showed disappointment with the offered accession date.
“It is too far,” said Montenegro’s acting Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic.