Ukraine has been exerting continuous pressure on European countries since the outbreak of the war with Russia, to accelerate the pace of its accession to the Union, where it obtained the status of "candidate", at a time when the Union is waiting for Kiev to implement its conditions and take further reform measures in the country.
Some leaders in the Western Balkans are frustrated that Ukraine is overtaking their countries in the process of joining the European Union.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic considers that the level of EU support for Ukraine and granting it "candidate" status within a year of its request, and possibly the start of membership talks next year, "shows us that such political support has never existed for us."
Kiev applied for EU membership less than a week after the outbreak of war on February 24, 2022, and curbing government corruption and adopting other reforms was the bloc's top priorities, while Belgrade had to wait more than 4 years after applying to start membership talks in 2014.
What hinders the membership of the Western Balkans?
- Serbia's negotiations on EU membership have currently stalled, most notably Belgrade's failure to normalize relations with its former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, and it is the only country in the Western Balkans that has not adopted EU sanctions against Russia, slowing its membership process.
- The bloc has vowed to speed up the membership process for the western Balkan countries of Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, with European Council President Charles Michel saying the bloc should prepare to bring in new members "by 2030".
- Michel admitted that "the slow path towards the EU has disappointed many, both in the region and within the EU."
- But Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama mocked the speed of Ukraine's accession process, saying, "It seems that war can speed up membership," before leaders joked with him at a recent event in Slovenia: "Who should attack who is on this team to get membership faster? Bulgaria can easily attack North Macedonia so we can all prepare to join the train with Ukraine."
- The dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1990 led to wars between Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, killing tens of thousands, and some hostilities, including those related to the formation of Bosnia and the status of Kosovo, have erupted repeatedly since then, making their integration into the European Union more difficult.
Changing geopolitical situations
Analysts said the EU was delaying the accession of Western Balkan countries, given its continued requirement for the rule of law and its corruption concerns, threatening to disrupt their accession.
Jasmin Moganovich, a political analyst specializing in Western Balkans and author of the book "The Crisis of Democracy in the Balkans", believes that "the date of accession of these countries to the Union in 2030 is illogical, as the geopolitical situation is heading to Ukraine, but it is very difficult for the rest of the countries."
"We have seen the EU break every promise and fail in every threat, but there is very little hope for any credible improvement," Moganovic added.
EU spokesman Luis Miguel Bueno had previously told Sky News Arabia that after Ukraine was granted candidate status for EU membership in 2022, the Council of the European Union regularly monitors the fulfillment of the conditions specified in the European Commission's opinion on the membership application.
These conditions include reforms related to the judiciary, the rule of law, the fight against money laundering and other reforms, according to Bueno, considering that this is the first time in the history of the European Union that a candidate country faces continuous armed aggression against it.
Irina Zuckerman, an American expert on international affairs and strategy, told Sky News Arabia that the Balkan countries had promised to take action toward their EU membership process nearly 20 years ago, but were still suffering from "forgetfulness."
Tuckerman identified the reasons for the anger of the Balkan countries and the delay in their accession to the European Union in a number of points, saying:
- Their frustration is understandable, especially since the EU accession process is not automatic.
- Even the fast track requires meeting various criteria related to membership qualifications, such as success in fighting corruption, protecting minority freedoms and rights, economic liberalization, and other issues.
- Ukraine is in many respects no different from what it was 20 years ago, but the war has shown the difficulties in addressing entrenched social and political issues.
- The situation in Ukraine is a security concern for all of Europe, including the Balkans, and by rapidly annexing Kiev to the EU, Brussels can provide Kiev with the resources and incentives to advance Russia's pro-democracy and liberal agenda.
- The other is that Ukraine, despite the many problems it faces, has already made significant improvements on many fronts for nearly 20 years, while the Balkan countries have already deteriorated, being criticized not only for not fighting corruption, but for embracing it and allowing more of it, and other internal indicators due to the inability to overcome sectarian tensions.
- Frankly, many EU countries are concerned about the inclusion of many new members who will rely heavily on European aid, and there are already tensions between some of the bloc's smaller, poorer countries and richer countries.
- Brussels should not abandon these countries, but rather engage in active and practical dialogue to overcome these issues, because regardless of whether they join as members or not, they will not join a rival bloc.