The EU will lose credibility if it does not focus on the EU integration of Western Balkan countries, which is being threatened by Russia’s war in Ukraine, speakers at a conference attended by high-level representatives of Serbian and Romanian institutions and civil society said on Tuesday.
The conference titled “The EU as the strategic choice – experience of Serbia and Romania” was held in Belgrade on Tuesday.
“The war in Ukraine and complex relations between the West and Russia could become risky for the Western Balkans, which could be a forgotten topic or a taboo that will not be discussed now,” Western Balkan Forum Bucharest President Victor Bostinaru said. The EU must not allow itself to forget about the Western Balkans, he added.
The EU could have once done more for the region’s integration, said Dirk Lorenz, head of Political at the EU Delegation to Serbia, noting that a new world was created when Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February.
“Enlargement is in our interest. It is a geopolitical strategic investment in stability, security and economic growth of all of Europe. The process must be stepped up. We can no longer waste time,” Lorenz stressed.
Knut Fleckenstein, a former MEP from the Social Democratic Party of Germany and a mediator in the inter-party dialogue in Serbia, called on the EU to urgently start talks with North Macedonia and Albania.
On Ukraine’s EU path, Fleckenstein said it should not be accelerated as it could not be compared with some countries which had been pursuing such a path for 19 years.
On the Serbian side, National Assembly Speaker Ivica Dačić said he was unhappy with the speed of his country’s EU accession process although the idea of the EU was presented as “valium” for the region’s problems.
“If the number of opened and closed chapters was measured, I would have to say that it does not reflect the real state of our preparedness for membership and that we are much closer to the objective than the numbers and chapters show,” Dačić said at the conference.
According to Dačić, the Open Balkans initiative does not replace European integration but is an attempt to overcome problems in the region during the accession process. I see no reason for anyone to be against [the EU], except for petty political reasons,” he added.
The parliament speaker also pointed to the accession fatigue felt by Serbian citizens. membership is in the best interest of citizens, he added.
He said that Serbia and the EU can be blamed for drawing out the process, adding that EU membership remains Belgrade’s strategic priority.
Novi Sad Mayor Miloš Vučević, Education Minister Branko Ružić, and representatives of Romanian and Serbian institutions and non-governmental organisations also spoke at the conference’s different panels.