The EU is seeking to involve the six aspiring members from the Western Balkans in foreign policy decision making, top officials said at the ministerial meeting on November 13.
The comment by the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, follows a sea change in attitudes to enlargement, as the invasion of Ukraine refocused EU officials and member states’ politicians on bringing the countries to the EU’s south and east into the EU fold. Aspiring members are already being offered greater integration with the EU while they await membership, as well as increased EU funding. However, while new candidate countries have been admitted, the progress of several Western Balkan countries towards accession has been patchy.
Borrell commented on November 13 of the EU's aim to involve the Western Balkans in its decision-making related to foreign and security policies prior to the region's accession to the EU.
Borrell wrote on social network X (formerly Twitter) that the European Union sees the future of the Western Balkans within its fold.
“Chairing the EU-#WesternBalkans ministerial meeting this evening with the 6 ministers of the region,” he wrote ahead of the EU-Western Balkans ministerial meeting in Brussels.
“We want to advance the integration of the region into our decision making, including on foreign & security policy — already before accession. The place of the WBs is in the EU.”
The discussion at the November 13 meeting centred on common security challenges amidst persistent global and regional security threats, an EU Council statement said.
Borrell emphasised the significance of unity and robust cooperation with Western Balkans partners to enhance resilience and foster peace and stability on the continent. He said the European Union considers candidate countries as dependable collaborators in foreign, security and defence policy, particularly in aligning with EU decisions in these areas.
“High Representative Borrell reiterated the EU’s continued strong support — political, technical and financial — to all candidates and potential candidates to help them advance key political, institutional, social and economic reforms,” the statement said.
European Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi, who also participated in the meeting in Brussels, wrote on the X platform that the integration of the Western Balkans into the EU is a "common goal" of the two parties.
"It concerns our common security, our stability, our prosperity. Ensuring peace on our continent is our joint project," said Varhelyi.
European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Getolini also commented: "We want to offer the Western Balkans countries some EU benefits in advance. This will be greater cooperation with the region. It's not just enlargement."
Calls for faster integration
A group of EU member states put forward a proposal on November 13 for accelerated integration of the Western Balkan countries in the bloc. The proposal was discussed by Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Slovakia and Slovenia ahead of the EU-Western Balkans ministerial meeting in Brussels.
"Slovenia supports the enhanced cooperation of the union with the countries of the Western Balkans in the field of common foreign and security policy,” said Slovenian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Tanja Fajon in a statement published by the Slovenian government.
“Together with Austria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Croatia, Italy and Slovakia, we have called for the preparation of a plan for the gradual but accelerated integration of the Western Balkan countries. Among other things, we advocate that, after harmonising their foreign and security policy with the European one, they could participate in our meetings as observers. Only with strengthened ties will we successfully deal with the challenges that lie ahead: from disinformation and hybrid threats to illegal migration.”
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg made a similar point. “Crucial to keep the #WesternBalkans high on our political agenda to support the region’s #EU path,” wrote Schallenberg on X.
“Great meeting our #WB6 partners in #Brussels. Together with the Friends of the Western Balkans, I proposed to deepen our cooperation on the Common Foreign and Security Policy.”
Serbia under pressure
EU foreign ministers and European Commission officials also called at the meeting for Western Balkan countries to fully align with the bloc’s foreign and security policy.
This applies mainly to Serbia, since most of the Western Balkan countries — all six either EU accession candidates or would-be candidates — have already aligned with the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), including by imposing sanctions on Russia.
Serbia, despite backing UN resolutions condemning the invasion of Ukraine, has so far declined to join Western sanctions on its old ally Russia.
The country is under additional pressure after investigative journalists at RFE/RL revealed that several Serbian companies are exporting dual-use products to Russia, despite Belgrade’s commitments not to help Russia avoid sanctions.
“Glad to attend ministerial mtg w/ Western Balkans partners. Reaffirmed [Romania’s] RO’s steadfast support for the path of the region & advocated for a full alignment with EU’s foreign&security policy positions,” wrote Romanian Foreign Minister Luminita Odobescu.
“Ministerial meeting EU-Western Balkans takes place today in Brussels. Strong support for the deeper cooperation with our partners and neighbors from the region. We expect full CFSP alignment including with the EU restrictive measures,” said the Bulgaria in the EU office.