EU Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn says the situation in the Western Balkans “remains fragile.”
He stressed that a lasting solution was “possible only at an international level, that is, within the EU.”
“We are not, however, fixating on dates of (EU) accession. We are talking about the accession process, while how fast countries progress depends on them,” he told the Vienna daily Kurier.
As for the resistance to further enlargement of the EU, Hahn emphasized that a majority of EU members is “restrained” on the issue – “which is why it is important to convince those people that a new member is not a burden or a problem, but a gain.”
Those countries that want to join, he said, must meet the prerequisites, “the legal system must work, they must be much more attractive as a location for investment.”
The economies of these countries must, during future admissions, be a key factor, he said.
“That is why we have proposed a common market for the region of the Western Balkans, with a free flow of goods and services, a common recognition of certificates. This would be relatively easy to implement, without having to change contracts, and it would be the first step into the European common market. Up to 80,000 jobs could be created once formal hurdles are eliminated,” Hahn think.
He also “noted Russian influence in the region” – especially with regard to “geo-strategic developments.”
In this context, he mentioned Montenegro’s accession to NATO, something that is “not well received in Russia.”
“They’re trying to create some problems, but that will not have long-term consequences, because 70 percent of investments in the region comes from the EU and there will be more. Maybe in Serbia many people are emotionally closer to Russia, but the strategic goal of Serbia is membership in the EU and the future of the region in the Union,” stressed Hahn.
As for Turkey, “its threats and provocations” – he pointed out that if changes to the country’s Constitution are accepted by the population, that will represent “a further degradation of its democracy.”