Western Balkans Summit overshadowed by Brexit

Western Balkans Summit overshadowed by Brexit
British Prime Minister Theresa May highlighted the historic agreement between Macedonia and Greece congratulating Prime Ministers Zaev and Tsipras as an extremely successful story of the last two EU-Western Balkans summits, stressing that progress is possible.

May at the London Summit announced the doubling of financial support for public administration projects in Macedonia, as well as training for digital skills for one million children from primary schools in the region, in order to learn about their power in the modern world.

Zaev on the sidelines of the summit also had a brief meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom he introduced to the preparations for the forthcoming referendum on the implementation of the provisions of the agreement on the solution of the Macedonian-Greek dispute and strategic partnership.

Zaev also met with EU High Representative for Security and Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini. The government's information service said she congratulated him on the decision of the European Council to set a date for opening negotiations in the chapter on EU membership chapters, and once again highlighted the results of the reform process and the bold decision to reach an agreement with Greece.

She emphasized that the European Commission remains fully committed to supporting our country in the new phase of reforms, as well as in supporting the organization of a successful referendum in the interest of the citizens of Macedonia.

All the leaders of the European Union and the Western Balkans have also voiced unanimous support for the Prespa Agreement and its implementation, assessing that the courage of Prime Ministers Zaev and Tsipras is a model for solving the most complex bilateral issues.

The working agenda at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in London ended with a joint press conference with British Prime Minister May, Chancellor Merkel and EU Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement, Johannes Hahn.

At the press conference, it was pointed out that the EU and the Federal Republic of Germany, especially through the Berlin process, remain committed to supporting the affirmation of European values ​​in the region, on connectivity projects and on regional cooperation and projects to ensure the safety and security of the region and Europe, and that future projects foresee new financial support from the EU funds.

But given the British government crisis (the government left several of its important members), at the Western Balkans summit in London there was little enthusiasm for the regional cooperation process and the EU perspective, and Brexit again came to the fore.

It was grotesque because the only one missing at the opening of the summit for the Western Balkans in London was the host. Boris Johnson, the British foreign minister, was busy writing his resignation at that time, just a few miles away.

Johnson's resignation cast a shadow over the important meeting for the Western Balkans region and catapulted Brexit in the foreground: instead of a fresh wind for a new enlargement of the EU, there was an unpleasant exit atmosphere. How reliable can a country present the advantages of the European club that is now leaving?

British Prime Minister Theresa May has sought to find a mild formulation: Britain is leaving the EU, but does not want to give up its responsibility for the Western Balkans. She also affirmed her statement with financial promises: after Brexit, London will increase its financial support for 2020 and 2021 by 95 percent to £80 million, which will support projects in the region.

There is much work to be done - reforms of the public administration and the judiciary are necessary, economic projects need to be started. "In the long term, well-being is the best guarantee for security," said Theresa May. Since the previous meetings focused primarily on regional cooperation, youth exchanges and connection, Britain has now put the security issue in the center of cooperation: in this perspective, the EU will work more closely with the six Western Balkan countries in the future. The goal is to prevent illegal migration, radicalization and arms trafficking.

In the same direction were the statements of the German Chancellor: the security of the Western Balkans is in the interests of Germany and the EU, said Angela Merkel.

It seems that security is the only common denominator around which the participants of the so-called The Berlin Process of the Western Balkans Conference could be aligned: the Western Balkans should contribute both to the protection of the EU border within Frontex and to the fight against terrorism and grave crime with the help of Europol.

At a time when the discourse in the EU dictates fears of migration and the loss of control, the Western Balkans' getting closer to the EU seems to be best sold to the electorate that is tired of enlargement through these topics.

But the EU must be capable to make concessions not only in terms of internal mood, but also in relation to the Western Balkan countries, which should be maintained in a pro-European mood, although it is clear that much more efforts are needed before the actual accession. The EU wants and needs to strengthen its influence in the region with visible and concrete projects. For, other players are already at the front door: Russia, China and even Turkey for years have unequivocally strengthened their presence.

Hence, the EU has lately amplified the pressure to resolve old conflicts: the agreement between Macedonia and Greece, which should annul the long-standing name dispute, has been achieved through EU mediation and should serve as an example in all bilateral conflicts.

But what, for example, in this area was specifically discussed and concluded during the summit, ultimately remains open. At the closing press conference with Merkel, May and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who will host the next conference, not a single issue for the Western Balkans was allowed. And not a sinle question from journalists coming from the Western Balkans. British journalists also agreed that it was a really shameful situation. Yet many questions were allowed for Brexit. (NV)

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