EU to put Western Balkans back on the agenda during Bulgarian presidency

EU to put Western Balkans back on the agenda during Bulgarian presidency
Top EU and Bulgarian officials at the launch ceremony of Bulgaria's EU Council presidency.
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia January 14, 2018

The European Union will put the accession of the Western Balkan countries  back on its agenda during Bulgaria’s six-month chairmanship of the European Council, its President Donald Tusk said at the launch ceremony in Sofia.

Bulgaria has set helping the Western Balkan countries get closer to membership in the European Union as its priority during its presidency of the bloc.

In his speech, Tusk compared the history of the region with the TV drama Game of Thrones and wished for more stability for its countries.

“The history of the Balkans is more dramatic and interesting than the screenplay of Game of Thrones, even if there are no dragons in it. We would all like it if the present and future of the Balkans were less like dramatic screenplays. Stability, security, prosperity – this is what the people of the whole region deserve. And the EU's purpose is to help make this screenplay a reality,” Tusk said.

Euractiv quoted Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva as saying on the day after the official ceremony that the EU should put back the Western Balkan countries in its agenda in order to counter the influence of Russia, Turkey and other countries.

“Those countries are important for geopolitical security. if we are not there, someone else will come, there is no vacuum. Turkey and Russia have been interested for decades, that’s why we have to show our political support, to show them that, if and when they are ready, the doors will be open,” Zaharieva told reporters in Sofia as quoted by Euractiv.

The six Western Balkan countries are at different stages in the EU integration  process, with Serbia and Montenegro having the best chance of joining sooner.

Albania needs to speed up judicial reforms, while Macedonia has to resolve a long-running dispute with Greece over its name, which it shares with a northern Greek province. Bosnia and Kosovo are far from getting candidate status as the two countries still need to implement key reforms, and Kosovo is not recognised by five EU members.