The summit between the leaders of the European Union and those of the six Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia) is in Tirana, the Albanian capital. It is the first ever to be held outside a member country of the European Union. As explained by the President of the EU Council, Charles Michel, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, this meeting of the leaders represents the union between the European Union and the Balkans. “This event is a symbol of our enhanced cooperation in response to the Russian war” is the common message. In doubt, following the tensions with Kosovo, the presence of Aleksander Vucic, president of Serbia, who is not known if he will boycott the summit.
There are many topics that will be addressed during this meeting. The priority, however, will be the war in Ukraine. The 35 leaders of the Union and the Balkans agree to remain firmly all united against a possible escalation. In this regard, it is possible to read in the latest draft of the EU-Western Balkans summit in Tirana: “A common vision of the future implies mutual responsibilities and shared values” and such a war “endangers European and world peace and security ”. A scenario to be avoided absolutely. The goal is to make “rapid and sustained progress” towards “full alignment” of the common foreign and security policy. In exchange, the European Union is ready to commit itself to the prospect of accession of the Balkan countries. The idea is to give life to a “reversible and merit-based” enlargement process. There will certainly be some heated discussions about the candidate status of Bosnia and Herzegovina and about Kosovo. The latter should soon submit its application for membership. Recently, the appointment of Nenad Rasic as Minister for Communities and the return of refugees, which took place on December 2, has sparked controversy on the part of Serbia. By virtue of this choice, Serbian President Vucic has announced that he will not participate in tomorrow’s summit. However, the European Union has repeatedly stressed how important the presence of all leaders is, without exception. Precisely for this reason, a chapter in the draft for tomorrow’s meeting concerns relations between Serbia and Kosovo.
Obviously, a priority issue is immigration. “Migration management remains a common challenge and responsibility,” reads the draft. The proposals presented to date by the EU Commission regarding the Balkan route will be presented. It is from here that the greatest number of migrants arrive. According to Frontex data, between January and October 2022 there were 181,000 irregular crossings on the Balkan route alone. 77% more than in the same period of 2021. The highest number since 2016 (they had been 130 thousand). A particular emphasis will be on border defense, border protection, intensification of returns to countries of origin, alignment of visa policy and cooperation with Frontex. For this reason, according to the EU Commission, it is necessary to set up an operational Europol task force.
The energy issues
The European Union will reiterate its support for its Balkan partners in addressing the negative effects on their economies of the Russian war in Ukraine. According to the draft, Russia is “solely responsible” for the energy crisis. A billion euros is therefore allocated to support the entire region. Another 2.5 billion in investments should be added. The expenditure will be financed through Ipa III, the instrument for pre-accession assistance. Part of the support will be directed to the budget and will be divided as follows: “80 million for North Macedonia, the same for Albania, 75 for Kosovo, 70 for Bosnia and Herzegovina, 165 for Serbia (for Montenegro it will be communicated at the time of von der Leyen’s new visit). The other 500 million will be invested in improving gas and electricity infrastructure. Furthermore, also for projects related to renewable energies.