Bulgaria’s EU Presidency is the start of a great opportunity for the Western Balkan countries to consolidate their relations with the European Union on their journey towards full membership. At least three successive EU presidencies – Bulgaria, Austria and Romania – are poised to make enlargement one of their main priorities.
Yet, the membership talks were overshadowed and jeopardized following the murder of a Serb leader in Kosovo on 16 January, which effectively stopped Belgrade’s EU-sponsored dialogue with Pristina seen as key to normalizing relations and flashing out EU prospects. Radko Vlaykov, Bulgarian Ambassador to Serbia, called on Serbian nationals to support their government’s reform plans and European integration. He also described his country’s EU presidency as a unique chance to make progress towards the European future.
“I am sure that when the politicians and citizens accept the EU as a common goal, membership will come quicker. Be united and strong,” said Mr. Vlaykov. He also said that the Bulgarian government had invested a lot of effort in persuading European leaders of the need to re-emphasize the focus on the Western Balkans and would continue to do so. The EU delegation to Serbia was also aligned with these words and said that Bulgaria can act as “a true bridge” between both sides.
The EU first reached out towards the Western Balkans in 2003 after adopting a declaration in Thessaloniki that offered the region a prospect of full membership. The pace of accession was, however, set up to fit each country’s progress in implementing legal, political, and economic reforms. Since then, the only Balkan country to have joined the EU is Croatia, which became a member in 2013.