European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Deutsche Welle that failure to integrate Western Balkan countries in the European Union could result in a repeat of the bloody conflict that raged across the region in the early and mid-1990s.
Juncker suggested that integrating the Western Balkan countries into the EU might be necessary to prevent spiraling Europe into a new conflict.
“People in the EU need to be constantly reminded that the Balkans is basically on our doorstep (…) Without the promise of the EU accession, we could all too easily see a repeat of the conflict (in the Balkans)”, said Juncker.
The European Commission has recently adopted a strategy for ‘A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans’, confirming the European future of the region as a geostrategic investment in a stable, strong and united Europe based on common values.
The EC announced six flagship initiatives - specific actions that the EU will take over the next years to support the transformation efforts of the Western Balkans in areas of mutual interest. These range from initiatives to strengthen the rule of law, reinforced cooperation on security and migration through joint investigating teams and the European Border and coast guard, expanding the EU Energy Union to the Western Balkans or lowering roaming charges and rolling out broadband in the region.
The Strategy also underlines the need for the EU to be prepared to welcome new members once they have met the criteria.
Juncker himself paid a visit to the region earlier this year, to win the support of Western Balkan countries’ leaders, and announced that “the year of 2025 is open to all candidate countries”.
“What struck me the most was the passion and conviction in the European Union. This gave me a renewed sense of belief and hope - that if a region, a dramatic region like the Western Balkans is so determined to reform from top to bottom in order to join our Union, then we must be a Union worth being a part of”, stressed Juncker after the visit.
EC President underlined that there was a great deal of work to be done and that all bilateral disputes had to be resolved. Also, he added, more unity is needed.
“As I said to all leaders in the region, there will be no fast-tracking. We will put substance over speed. Each case will be taken on its own merits with no fixed dates or firm deadlines”, said Juncker.