Former Yugoslav States, Albania Vow to Step Up Drive to Join EU

  • Unity is only answer to peace, security in the Balkans region
  • `U.S. has never left' the Balkans, Vice President Biden Says

Former Yugoslav republics and neighboring Albania vowed to resuscitate their drive for European Union integration after the migrant crisis rocked the region and created the worst political rifts between Balkan states since the civil wars of the 1990s.

The heads of state for EU members Croatia and Slovenia and EU outsiders Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania signed a joint commitment to strengthening the stability and prosperity of the region. They also aim to strengthen ties to the U.S. and seek an expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization deeper into the Balkans.

“Even though the EU enlargement process is an effective tool for transformation and modernization of candidate countries, commitment to this process needs to be reinvigorated,” the countries said in the statement Wednesday after meetings in Zagreb with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and EU President Donald Tusk. “This process has to be considered as not just a technical exercise, but a paramount political process.”

The western Balkans has been stretched by the flood of hundreds of thousands of migrants escaping the violence in Syria as well as refugees from as far away as Afghanistan and Northern Africa. Slovenia and Croatia strained their EU ties after Slovenia declared its intention to build fencing along the two countries’ shared border. The dispute is being echoed across the EU as governments grapple with a crisis on a scale not seen since the 1940s.

Biden Visit

Biden, who spent the day behind closed doors with local leaders, said at a press conference in Zagreb that the U.S. continues to support the region as tensions rise. The U.S., under President Bill Clinton, helped forge a peace that followed the bloodiest warfare in Europe since World War II and led to the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

“The U.S. has never left, and we are fully committed to the integration of this region into the EU,” Biden said.

After Slovenia joined the EU in 2004 and Croatia followed in 2013, the march to the EU has stalled. Serbia, the largest of the former Yugoslav republics, began official accession talks last year, while Montenegro, which began talks earlier, still hasn’t completed the 30 necessary policy areas to be ready for membership.

“The momentum of the accession processes varies among the countries of South East Europe,” the heads of state said in the statement. “Some countries are experiencing challenges in their individual progress on the European integration path, contributing to a sense of discouragement and providing fertile ground for populism and instability that often thrive on unresolved political and inter-ethnic tensions.”

Delays are causing eroding support for EU membership among the electorate, which may give rise to nationalism that “must be broken on both sides,” according to the statement. Biden said the U.S. continues to support EU-mediated talks between Serbia and Kosovo, the breakaway province that was the center of the last of the fighting in former Yugoslavia.

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