From: Alice Taylor, Alexandra Brzozowski
Three EU Hopefuls Agree to Support Ukraine Membership Bid, Except Serbia

Three of the four Western Balkan EU membership candidates signed a joint statement with Ukraine in support of its EU candidacy during a visit to Kyiv on Wednesday (15 June), while Serbia, the fourth regional hopeful, was conspicuous with its absence.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and his Montenegrin counterpart Dritan Abazovic held a press conference with Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelenskyy during a trip to the war-torn country. North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski was present via video link.

“Our states – Ukraine, the Republic of Albania, Montenegro and the Republic of Northern Macedonia – must become full members of the EU, and we agree that our countries are not competitors on this European path but only complement and strengthen each other’s capabilities,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

The joint statement, signed by all leaders states: “the Republic of Albania, Montenegro and the Republic of North Macedonia support, if EU member states agree, granting Ukraine the EU candidate status during the European Council meeting in June 2022 and Ukraine’s EU membership perspective.”

The statement confirms that the three Western Balkan states do not perceive Ukraine as a potential competitor in the EU enlargement process, despite speculation that they may oppose it.

Ukraine, Albania, Montenegro, and North Macedonia believe that EU June summit could be a historic summit for the European Union, by making bold decisions and providing peace, stability, prosperity and clear European perspective without further delay,” the statement concludes.

Rama said he fully supports Ukraine’s EU membership bid, adding that “all three countries believe in Ukraine’s European future.”

His sentiments were echoed by Abazovic, who said it is a moral obligation to visit Kyiv and support the Ukrainian people and their dream of a better life.

Upcoming summit

EU leaders are set to meet with their six Western Balkans counterparts, including two countries already in accession talks and two candidates, on 23 June, before a crucial EU summit meant to discuss Ukraine’s potential candidate status in the bloc.

But enlargement, in general, will remain a controversial topic because while the European Commission reiterates it is on the table, the reality is that many think it has stalled as there has been virtually no concrete progress in recent years.

Albania and North Macedonia, though official candidates, have been in the waiting room for years, blocked by issues of corruption, and asylum as well as, in the case of Skopje, a veto from neighbouring EU member Bulgaria.

“After Russia’s attack on Ukraine, and in light of the influence from third parties in the Western Balkan region, which are the most vulnerable on the European continent, enlargement has become a security question,” North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Kovačevski told EURACTIV, Exit’s partner, in an exclusive interview earlier this month.

Asked about the reactions if Ukraine were to be granted candidate status in June, which has often been framed as ‘jumping the queue’ before Western Balkan countries, Kovačevski said, “They deserve to fight for their prosperity and for their future in the EU”.

“We can only wish them luck in their EU candidacy aspirations, but the EU has to be aware that it has to deliver, not only promise,” he said.

As for Rama, he has made no secret of his scepticism. In an interview this week, he said in no uncertain terms that he does not expect any progress at the summit.

“I have no expectations. I think nothing will happen. “Albania and Northern Macedonia will not officially open membership talks,” he said, adding if nothing happens, he will seek uncoupling from the Macedonian path.

Out in the cold

For Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, the situation appears even direr. Both countries are reaching for potential candidate status, with Pristina holding out for visa liberalisation like all of its neighbours.

One of the stumbling blocks for Kosovo remains its non-recognition by EU members Spain, Cyprus, Romania, and Greece. While these stances are mainly driven by their own domestic territorial disputes, it means the idea of enlargement for Kosovo seems even more distant.

In Kyiv, Rama implored Ukraine to recognise Kosovo, hinting it could help their EU progress.

“Ukraine has not recognised Kosovo, and I said during the press conference and publicly that you should reconsider the recognition of Kosovo because they deserve it and did not remain an obstacle of the past”.

He added, “It would be good for Ukraine to convey the right message about the new European reality we want to build.”

Conspicuous in absence

Notably absent from the visit and agreement was Serbia, which is the only European country asides from Belarus, to not impose the EU’s sanctions on Russia.

The capital of Belgrade has also been home to a number of pro-Russia rallies since Moscow’s invasion.

On Monday (13 June), the European Parliament’s foreign policy committee (AFET) said Serbia should demonstrate its commitment to policies and standards and is expected to reconsider its relationship with Russia.

Lawmakers also regretted that the Belgrade-Moscow continued to operate normally while the EU had closed its airspace to Russian aircraft.