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Thursday, June 21, 2018, 

2018 to be important for Western Balkans, Former French FM Kouchner says

2018 to be important for Western Balkans, Former French FM Kouchner says

Brussels, 27 December 2017 (MIA) - The door to EU enlargement has at last creaked open, three years after European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker slammed it shut by saying there would be no enlargements in his five-year term in office, the former French foreign minister and UN Special Representative to Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner says in his article, published by the online newspaper 'EU Observer'.

For whatever reason - crises survived, an improved continental economy, Brexit - Juncker now feels 'the time is right to inspect the queue outside and hand out admission slips. But only two,' Kouchner says.

Although Serbia and Montenegro are currently tipped as the top candidates for the next round of EU enlargement, there are other nations, also in the Western Balkans, equally deserving of joining our Union and, crucially, far more enthusiastic about doing so, Kouchner says, notifying that over 80 percent of Albania's citizens and a clear majority (54 percent) of Macedonians (compared with just 26 percent in Serbia) want to join the EU.

'True, its (Macedonia's) disagreement with neighbouring Greece over the use of the name - which Athens insists applies to one of its provinces - continues to pose a problem. But given the incentive of a faster-track entry to the Union, I suspect the Macedonian authorities would find a solution.' Kouchner says.

Voicing his support for Kosovo, where he once served as the UN Special Representative, Kouchner points out that a remarkable 90 percent of its citizens want to join the EU.

'Sadly I doubt their wishes will be granted soon, with both Serbia and five current EU members refusing to recognise its legitimacy. But here too the EU needs to be more proactive, encouraging Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, Spain as well as Serbia to accept the inevitable and acknowledge Kosovo's sovereignty,' he says.

My feeling, he says further, is that Brussels has, until very recently, deliberately ignored the Western Balkans. Granted there have been distractions: Ukraine, the migration challenge, unemployment, Greece, and more recently Brexit and Catalonia.

The mood music seems now to be changing, Kouchner says, citing Juncker's statement at his state of the union address in September, namely that 'if we want more stability in our neighbourhood, then we must also maintain a credible enlargement perspective for the Western Balkans.'

My country, Kouchner says, France's new president, Emmanuel Macron, has said much the same thing, declaring in the same month that the EU 'will have to open up to the Balkan countries.'

Last month, he notifies, Albania's PM Edi Rama issued a clear warning: 'The Balkans in general, and Albania in particular, will progress,' he told a Brussels audience, 'but if the prospect [of EU membership] fades away or becomes an illusion, then things can turn out wrong.'

Kouchner  believes that EU membership is part of the solution to Balkan instability and its long history of inter-ethnic conflict. lk/19:52







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