Effects of new EU strategy for Western Balkans on Bulgarian Presidency of EU Council

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The EU presented yesterday its strategy for “a credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans,” which not only confirms but also places the European prospects of six Balkan countries with approximate precision on the timescale. In case of a favorable development of reforms and settlement of their disputes with neighboring countries, Serbia and Montenegro may finish their pre-accession talks with the EU by 2025; Albania and Macedonia could receive a recommendation in the coming months from the EC for opening accession talks; Bosnia and Herzegovina would become a candidate for accession, and Kosovo would accelerate progress in EU integration by implementing its Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU.

Clarification of the European perspective for the Western Balkan was highlighted as a top priority of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council last year. Therefore, welcoming the new EU strategy, the MFA in Sofia pointed out that "Bulgaria had achieved its goal of bringing back the Western Balkans region to the EU agenda." However, defining the European perspective of the region is in intermediate stage and the steps towards its implementation are yet to come.In this relation, EU's top foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has said that the coming months would be intense and would be remembered "as a cornerstone and key to the EU."

This expectation is fully relevant to the remaining five months of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU. The Presidency's efforts in the new situation will logically focus mainly on work to meet the EU's conditions for the integration of the Western Balkans. A milestone in this direction in particular will be the six initiatives announced in the new EU Strategy aimed at strengthening the rule of law, addressing issues of security and migration, socio-economic development, transport and energy connectivity, the digital agenda and the elimination of roaming taxes, as well as good neighborly relations. Clarification of the tasks for each particular country will have to be done at the summit of leaders of the EU and the Western Balkans scheduled for next month in Sofia.

However, the implementation of the Western Balkans Strategy also has its financial dimensions. The EC proposes its financing under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance until 2020to be gradually increased within the allocation of the current financial framework. This year, pre-accession assistance for the Western Balkans is foreseen to reach EUR 1.07 billion, but it is already necessary to work on the EU's multi-annual financial framework. Work on the Multiannual Financial Framework after 2020 is also among the announced priorities of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council, but the newly-launched Strategy for the Western Balkans dictates inclusion of additional elements in it.

With the latest developments related to the Western Balkans, responsibilities of the Bulgarian presidency concerning the region are not finished. Presenting the new EU strategy for the region coincided with news that a European Commission meeting with Turkish President Recep Erdogan will take place on 26 March in the Bulgarian port city of Varna. The meeting will discuss not only issues linked to normalizing EU-Turkey relations but also other regional topics. With the startof the second month of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council, tasks and responsibilities are changing, expanding and multiplying simultaneously.

English: Alexander Markov


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