MEP Eduard Kukan: An Update on European Integration of the Western Balkans

Written by | Monday, November 21st, 2016

INTERVIEW with Eduard Kukan (Member of European Parliament and former Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister)

EUBULLETIN: Which countries in the Western Balkans are currently the closest to joining the European Union?

Eduard Kukan: If you look at the current situation in the accession negotiations in Western Balkans, the frontrunner is clearly Montenegro. This country started the negotiations two years ago and it already closed several preliminary chapters and more new chapters are being opened. Although the Serbs don’t like it very much but it is clear that Montenegro is a true leader in the negotiation process. The Serbs don’t like the fact that we call Montenegro the leader – there is basically some kind of historical rivalry between these two countries like between the Czechs and Slovaks. (laughing)

And the second is Serbia, which is also in the process of going through the accession negotiations, several chapters were opened but the process will be difficult and more complicated because of the Kosovo issue. Some EU Member States are even asking Serbia to recognize the independence of Kosovo, and although there is not any official EU document that would request Serbia to recognize the independence of Kosovo, it is still a difficult issue. What everybody is calling upon Serbia to do is to regulate and normalize the relationship with Kosovo. Yes, they reached an agreement about the normalization and now they should implement what has been agreed. So, this is an additional burden for Serbia, which would make it to take a longer time for this country to become an EU member.

EUBULLETIN: Why are, in your view, the other candidates for the EU membership lagging behind?

Eduard Kukan: Montenegro and Serbia are the only two countries, which are negotiating now. Turkey is also involved in the EU accession negotiations but we should put this country into a completely different category. It would be good if also Albania could join these negotiations. Albania already has the candidate country status and, provided they deliver on some reforms this year, they would get the date when they could also start the accession negotiations. So, these are the countries that we could expect to sooner or later become the next new members of the European family – but this will take time, eight years or nine years, but not earlier.

EUBULLETIN: You mentioned Montenegro being a frontrunner in the accession negotiations and Serbia lagging behind. But do you see as one of the problems with Serbia the fact that this country’s political elite clearly has conflicting allegiances? They appear to be somewhat divided about whether Serbia should align itself more with the EU or Russia?

Eduard Kukan: I firmly believe that Serbia is going to the European Union – that’s what we hear from the Serbian leaders, especially with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic who is the most influential politician there and the way he explains it makes us believe that he sincerely wants his country to be a member of the European Union. But the issues you mentioned that they are sometimes cooperating closer with Russia, they have the argument that if they would cut their economic relations with Russia, then that would be very difficult for them. I don’t think that all these arguments, which they are using, are valid. I think that the EU should be more strict with Serbia because even if it don’t apply sanctions against Russia saying that Serbia is not a member of the European Union, well this is ok but you would still expect from the country, which is preparing to join our EU family, that it would behave more friendly and be closer to us and not to the other side. I hope that Serbia will make the right choice in the future.

EUBULLETIN: The last question concerns the migration crisis. To what extent, do you think, has the fact that hundreds of thousands of these migrants have transited through the Western Balkans can destabilize this region, particularly in light of the fact that many of the Muslim migrants have stayed in these economically vulnerable countries along the way?

Eduard Kukan: I think this is a question or an issue that we should be worried about – I think we should take it seriously. Unless we pay a proper attention and use the necessary measures to keep the situation under control, we can face a very dangerous situation in the future. So, I think this is a difficult problem and the European Union should really provide all the necessary assistance to its partners in the Western Balkans to cope with the situation because it is a big burden for them.

Dr Eduard Kukan has been a Member of the European Parliament where he has been also serving on the Committee on Foreign Affairs. In 1999, he was appointed United Nations Special Envoy on Kosovo by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, a role he held alongside Carl Bildt. From 1998 to 2006, Dr. Kukan was the Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister. He graduated from Comenius University’s Faculty of Law and the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

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