Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu and 14 other member states of the European Union have delivered a joint letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to call for the continuation of the accession of the Western Balkans to the European Union.
Reinsalu said it is vital for the development of the region that the EU stands by its promise to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, and if it is not done this autumn, steps should be taken to ensure that talks are opened as soon as possible.
"Otherwise, time will work against our shared interests," Reinsalu said.
The letter states that since the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003, the EU has repeatedly confirmed its openness to the accession of all countries of the Western Balkans wishing to meet the EU's criteria. Over the years, the prospect of EU membership has been a driving force for reforms in the countries of the region and has delivered concrete results, including the historic Prespa Agreement. The EU failed to reach a consensus on the issue of opening negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia.
The letter points out that last month, the EU did not reach consensus on opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia.
"At the time when we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain that ushered in the era of Europe's unification, we reiterate that the consolidation of Europe cannot be completed without the Western Balkans. Moreover, there can be no doubt that durable stability and security as well as the continuation of the reform processes in the region can best be achieved through EU-integration. The accession process is the quintessential instrument for achieving this goal, thus making a key contribution to the Union's security and prosperity. It therefore must continue without unnecessary delay. There is no viable alternative to full-fledged membership of the Western Balkan countries in the EU if we want to safeguard our interests in the region effectively," it stands in the letter signed by the foreign ministers of Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary.
"It is true that the current accession process in the Western Balkans progresses slowly and somewhat unevenly. We are therefore ready to engage constructively in an effort to improve this process. We will do so on the understanding that such an exercise be conducted in an effective and result-oriented fashion and that it enables the EU to reach consensus on opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia in March 2020," the letter reads.
"In parallel, we call on the European Commission to elaborate by January 2020 concrete proposals for ways to enhance the effectiveness of the accession process as an instrument to support reform and integration efforts in the region.
The EU's openness to all European nations who share our values and are ready to accept the acquis communautaire is pivotal for the union's historic mission of completing European unification," the foreign ministers of the 15 member states say.
Editor: Helen Wright