THESSALONIKI – Speaking in Greece’s second-largest city, Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told a conference of high-ranking officials that the European Union must look at the Western Balkan countries as partners.
“The Western Balkans are an intrinsic part of Europe and the European Union’s enlargement policy is its most powerful tool for ensuring stability and security in the region,” he said, with North Macedonia, Serbia and Albania hoping to be admitted.
The event came three months before an EU-Western Balkans Summit in Croatia, which holds the rotating Presidency of the EU Council and after French President Emmanuel Macron said he would no longer object to accession talks for North Macedonia and Albania.
North Macedonia is also moving toward getting into NATO after the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA in Greece lifted a bar to that as well as EU accession talks.
That was done as part of deal that saw a name change from The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to North Macedonia, despite vehement objections from moste Greek angered that former premier Alexis Tsipras gave away the name of an abutting ancient Greek province.
North Macedonia and especially Albania, where organized crime is rampant, are also fighting reputations for corruption which could hinder EU accession although some countries in the bloc, such as Romania, are seen as highly corrupt.
The meeting in Greece was aimed at discussing ways to overcome objections from within the EU to the bloc’s expansion, said Kathimerini, after the departure of the United Kingdom saw it shrink to 27 countries.
“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, the paper reported.
“Any failures in the enlargement process will have direct consequences, mainly on us, so it is imperative that we are united,” he added.
“The future of the Western Balkans cannot lie anywhere but in Europe,” Dendias stressed, with talks already underway with Montenegro and Serbia, both perceived as rife with criminal elements, corruption and trying to limit press freedom.
Albania and North Macedonia were blocked from proceeding with talks by France, Denmark and the Netherlands in October, 2019 over corruption worries and other issues, before Macron lifted his objection.