- The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is deeply disappointed about EU leaders’ decision to further postpone opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania at the European Council of 17-18 October, due to the lack of unanimity between the Members States.
- The EESC strongly regrets the failed respect of the engagements taken vis-à-vis those two countries. Indeed, the European Council conclusions of 28 June 2018, which endorsed the conclusions on enlargement and the stabilisation and association process adopted by the Council on 26 June 2018, laid a clear path towards the opening of accession negotiations in June 2019. On 18 June 2019 the European Council already decided to revert, no later than October 2019, to the issue of the Commission’s recommendations to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania.
- The EESC stresses that the non-decision, for the second time, on opening the accession negotiations with these two countries that have fulfilled all the necessary conditions is a geo-strategic and historic mistake and puts the EU’s credibility and reliability at stake. The EU had the opportunity to open negotiations while applying rigorous conditionality on good governance, insisting on the strict application of the criteria for membership during the negotiations process and devising better instruments to monitor the rule of law after accession.
- The EESC is convinced that the process of “europeanising” this region requires tough structural reforms within the countries in the Western Balkans.
- It has no doubt that there is a widespread enlargement fatigue among EU citizens in some of the Member States. It has no doubt that divide inside the EU on issues such as immigration and the new budget diverted the necessary political attention away from the enlargement policy. But political consensus and wide public support for the EU accession in both North Macedonia and Albania cannot be ignored.
- Young people in the Western Balkans have high expectations from the EU and we should not let them down. The EESC is convinced that we should give them a positive perspective for their future, allowing them to live in a region that is stable and prosperous.
- Civil society organisations are strongly convinced that the Western Balkans are a key geostrategic region of Europe, in our backyard, when other global players are looking with interest at the region.
- At the 7th Western Balkans Civil Society Forum promoted by EESC in Tirana on 16-17 April 2019, civil society organisations have reiterated in the final declaration that the enlargement of the EU, and in particular the spread of its democratic values and legal standards to the Western Balkans, is in the interest of both the region and the EU, despite the multitude of challenges it is currently facing.
- The EESC has repeatedly expressed concern about the shrinking space for civil society in a number of countries in the Western Balkans and called to encourage the authorities in the Western Balkans to redouble their efforts to ensure respect for the rule of law, fundamental human rights, judicial reform, the fight against corruption and discrimination and the independence of journalists and freedom of the press – some of the core European values that every EU Member State should respect. The social dialogue and the role of the social partners and civil society organizations in economic and social development must be strongly encouraged and promoted.
- The EESC will continue working closely and intensively with civil society in the Western Balkans to support and reassure them that their place is in the European Union. We will do whatever we can to promote reconciliation and European values in the region and our position on EU enlargement will remain firm. We are convinced that a clear perspective on EU accession is essential for the stability of the region and we express hope that enlargement will remain one of the EU's priorities, despite the multitude of challenges it's currently facing.
- From our part, through our regular activities with our partners from the region – Civil Society Joint Consultative Committees with Montenegro and Serbia, Western Balkans Civil Society Forums, as well as High Level Civil Society Conferences organised before EU-Western Balkans Summits – we shall continue to be the voice of the civil society of the Western Balkans and act as a bridge towards EU institutions and their respective governments.
- The EESC express its utmost appreciation of the European Parliament resolution adopted last 24 October 2019 and confirms its full commitment to support the European Parliament and the incoming European Commission to strengthen EU enlargement policy and to improve EU toolbox for engagement with the Western Balkans.
- The EESC urges all stakeholders to take all the necessary steps so that the European Council adopts a unanimous, positive decision before the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb in May 2020. We also ask the upcoming Croatian Presidency of the EU Council to bring new impetus to the enlargement process at the Summit.
 Council conclusions of June 2018
 7th Western Balkans Civil Society Forum: Final declaration https://www.eesc.europa.eu/en/agenda/our-events/events/7th-western-balkans-civil-society-forum/final-declarations