It is high time to step up EU engagement in the Western Balkans

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The EESC, together with its civil society partners from the region, strongly supports further EU enlargement to the Western Balkans countries. As stated in the Final Declaration from the EESC's 8th Western Balkans Civil Society Forum, held on 30 September and 1 October 2021 in Skopje, North Macedonia, European integration of the Western Balkans represents a geostrategic investment in the peace, stability, and economic as well as social development of the entire continent.

In view of the next meeting of the General Affairs Council on 14 December 2021, the EESC urges the Council and all the EU Member States to finally adopt the conclusions on the enlargement/stabilisation and association process, as well as negotiating frameworks for the formal start of EU accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia.

EU accession should also remain a key priority for Bosnia and Herzegovina, with urgent steps taken on crucial electoral and constitutional reform. The increasingly divisive rhetoric in Bosnia and Herzegovina is alarming. The EESC calls for all parties to respect state institutions, refrain from escalation, and focus on helping the country to progress on its European integration path. The EESC condemns any calls for secession and urges political parties to return to constructive dialogue.

The EESC, through its EU-Serbia Joint Consultative Committee (JCC), is also closely following the attempts to shrink the civic space and demonstrations currently being held in Serbia. Citizens are expressing their dissatisfaction with what they see as their government's disregard for property rights and environmental standards.

Tangible benefits for the citizens of the Western Balkans should be at the heart of the EU's enlargement policy. The EU needs to re-engage and invest much more in this region situated in the heart of Europe. The future of Western Balkans is an integral and inseparable part of the future of Europe and what we want is peaceful, green, digital and prosperous Europe.

 

Christa SCHWENG, President of the EESC, and Dimitris DIMITRIADIS, President of the EESC Section for External Relations