European Council president says Western Balkans and EU should prepare for enlargement by 2030

European Council president says Western Balkans and EU should prepare for enlargement by 2030
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, addresses the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia. / European Union
By Valentina Dimitirevska in Skopje August 29, 2023

European Council President Charles Michel said at the opening of Bled forum in Slovenia on August 28 that both the EU and the Western Balkans should be fully prepared for EU enlargement by 2030.

Michel said that in 2003, the Thessaloniki Summit solidified the European perspective for the Western Balkans, but the gradual pace of the EU integration process has left many dissatisfied, both within the region and the EU itself.

“To be credible, I believe we must talk about timing and homework. And I have a proposal. As we prepare the EU’s next strategic agenda, we must set ourselves a clear goal. I believe we must be ready — on both sides — to enlarge by 2030,” Michel said at the forum titled Solidarity for Global Security.

Michel said he would advocate for the start of negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova. Moreover, he anticipates a reevaluation of Bosnia & Herzegovina and Georgia's positions.

"There is still a lot of work to do. It will be difficult and sometimes painful. For the future member states and for the EU," Michel warned.

While acknowledging that addressing historical conflicts might prove more arduous than implementing reforms, Michel underscored their inevitability.

Drawing parallels with the EU's founding members, he emphasised that reconciliation is an integral aspect of successful cooperation. He said that past conflicts have no place within the EU.

He further stated that expansion continues to be a process determined by a state's merits and that joining the EU entails assuming obligations alongside advantages. To effectively undertake these commitments and enjoy the rewards, preparedness is essential, Michel said.

This preparation entails ensuring the judiciary functions autonomously, combating corruption and organised crime. It also involves economic readiness, particularly through the adoption of the EU acquis. Equally important is alignment in foreign policy, a facet more critical in today's context than ever before, he stated.

Michel also emphasised the need for the EU to ready itself for enlargement.

"I fully agree with [French] President [Emmanuel] Macron: not reforming on our side before the next enlargement would be a fundamental mistake. Let’s be honest — we have sometimes used the lack of progress of future member states to avoid facing our own preparedness. We must now take a serious look at the EU's capacity to absorb new members," he said.

Regarding tensions in Serbia and Kosovo, Macron said at the Bled forum that Belgrade and Pristina are expected to actively implement the Franco-German proposal. He cautioned that failing to do so might lead to a reconsideration of the EU's visa policy.

He further emphasised the need for a distinct and resolute commitment to maintaining peace in the region, particularly concerning the forthcoming municipal elections in the northern part of Kosovo and the renewed involvement of Serbs in local institutions.

In a gesture of solidarity, Michel also assured Slovenia of the EU's unwavering support in its endeavours to reconstruct the nation following the devastating floods in early August.

As he toured the affected areas in the Kamnik municipality north of Ljubljana alongside Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob, he reinforced the EU's dedication to standing by its member states in times of crisis.