Chances of success for Ukraine, low expectations for the Balkans

Chances of success for Ukraine, low expectations for the Balkans

At their summit meeting, the heads of state and government of the EU will decide on the candidate status for Ukraine and the prospects for other states willing to join. This is going to be tricky.

Of course, Ukraine is also represented by an ambassador to the EU. But unlike Andriy Melnyk, the Ukrainian representative in Berlin, the name of Vsevolod Tschenzow is not very well known in Brussels. Tschenzow works more quietly and not with interviews. However, he now describes to the Süddeutsche Zeitung and a handful of international media how high his country’s expectations are for the EU summit, which begins on Thursday.

“The men ask what the status of the candidate is when they call from the front,” reports the 48-year-old. Tschenzow is optimistic that the heads of state and government will follow the EU Commission’s recommendation – and has every reason to do so. “The European Council has decided to give Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova the status of candidate countries,” says the current draft of the summit declaration. The Leaders, as the heads of state and government are called in Brussels, do not want to decide on “further steps” until the required reforms in terms of the rule of law and the fight against corruption have been completed. It is also said about Georgia that the future of this country “and its people lies in the EU”.

Supporters of Ukraine also give hope that Council President Charles Michel probably did not hear any objections in his video conferences, which he held with a small group of leaders in preparation for the summit – not even from the Hungarian Viktor Orbán, the notorious troublemaker. On Tuesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky called Orbán and thanked him on Twitter for Hungary’s support. Tschenzow described Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit with Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron to Kyiv last week as “particularly helpful”: After the three largest EU countries had spoken out in favor of candidate status, the debate changed , and the skeptics would have given in. Such were Portugal, the Netherlands or Denmark.

Insiders now expect the debate on Ukraine’s EU prospects to be shorter and less emotional. Of course, Russia’s war of aggression and all its consequences will be discussed intensively – including Moscow’s curtailed gas supplies and threats against Lithuania. The Kremlin is spreading the lie that the EU member is blocking deliveries to the Kaliningrad exclave. According to the draft of the summit declaration, the EU members are “advocating a further increase in military support” and new sanctions against Russia. However, this should only be about implementing the measures that have been decided and closing loopholes. In addition, Ukraine is to receive an aid package of nine billion euros from the EU Commission for 2022.

North Macedonia is threatened with a blockade

The debate about how to deal with the Western Balkans could now turn out to be more explosive. Before the regular EU summit, the heads of state and government of the EU 27 wanted to meet with the representatives of the six countries in the region. By Wednesday afternoon it was not even clear whether the heads of government from North Macedonia, Serbia and Albania would travel to Brussels. Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on Twitter, which EU diplomats see similarly: “The whole Union kidnapped by Bulgaria is not a spectacle that one would like to see! What are we supposed to do there?” Now they are coming, but the frustration is still great that Bulgaria has long been using a veto to prevent the EU from starting accession negotiations with North Macedonia – Albania is also affected by this. Sofia demands that North Macedonia must first recognize the genuine Bulgarian roots in its language, population and history, as well as the rights of the Bulgarian minority.

The French EU Council Presidency has been working intensively for weeks to dissuade Bulgaria from its hard-line position, but so far without success. All indications from Brussels or Berlin that North Macedonia has initiated many reforms and even changed its name in order to get closer to the EU have no effect in Sofia. The situation is complicated by the fact that Bulgaria’s head of government, Kiril Petkov, lost the majority in parliament and was overthrown by a vote of no confidence on Wednesday. So it remains open who will represent Bulgaria at all.

Expectations for Thursday morning’s meeting are therefore low in the six countries of the Western Balkans, which are at different stages of the rapprochement process with the EU. Both the politicians and the people there have heard phrases such as “breathing new life into the enlargement process”, as Council President Michel put it in his letter of invitation, too often. For example, Kosovo has been waiting since 2018 for the member states to follow the EU Commission’s ruling and lift the visa requirement for tourist trips to the Schengen area.

The high prices are also an issue

The debate about granting the politically significant status of the accession candidate to Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia has reminded the countries of the Western Balkans that they were promised an EU perspective as early as 2003. Since then, however, not much has happened – and there is concern that the Western Balkans will be forgotten in a kind of waiting pattern.

At dinner, Macron wants to present his vague idea of ​​a “European Political Community,” followed by a debate on how the EU deals with European states that are not members of the Union. This group includes Ukraine and the Western Balkans, as well as Great Britain and Norway.

On the other hand, there should not be a debate about the EU’s ambitious climate protection program at the summit. On Wednesday, the EU Parliament passed its position on important laws from this package, but the heads of state and government want to avoid the explosive topic right now. Instead, on Friday, the second day of the summit, they will discuss the economic consequences of the Ukraine war, such as the rapidly rising energy and food prices. There are no decisions to be made here, but there are difficult discussions.


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