Quality of reforms before speed was the message of European Commission Jean- Claude Juncker as regards European Union accession, during his recent, six-nation tour of the Balkans.
Juncker underlined that he made no commitments to any of the countries – Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, FYROM, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia – regarding the date on which they may be invited to join the EU.
“In Macedonia, or rather in the FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) which is the diplomatic term, I noticed people are making great progress toward joining the EU. But I promised no one an accession date. I didn’t give states that are not yet negotiating a date to begin negotiations,” Juncker told DW in a fill-length interview.
“The Macedonians understood my point of view, the Albanians not as much, but then again, Albania isn’t negotiating yet. In April, we will make recommendations — but at this point, I can’t say what they will be. I need to see some progress on substance. That is something we will have to have checked by April,” he said.
EU perspective or war?
While recognising that there is a definite enlargement fatigue in the ranks of EU member-states, Juncker indicated that the prospect of accession is important for avoiding a potential tinderbox in the backyard of the EU, and he even brandished the frightful prospect of a Balkan war.
“It’s important to explain that the Western Balkans are on our doorstep. It’s not far away, but the historic distance is long. Not too long ago, the region saw a fierce war. If we take away the western Balkans’ accession perspective, that could soon repeat itself. Not too many people remember, but not too long ago, there were many refugees, there was rape, murder, children dying and destruction — war right in the heart of Europe. I’d rather not see a repetition of that situation,” Juncker declared.
The case of Albania
When asked if the Albanians, who are eager to join the EU, need convincing about the terms of membership, Juncker essentially said that border disputes have no place in the EU.
“I don’t have to convince the Albanians to become EU members. But in Albania as elsewhere, I have to point out that the accession conditions must be met — which means the western Balkans states must drop their border conflicts. We can’t import border conflicts into the EU. We must bring stability to the region, but instability can’t be what we get in return.