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The EU Still Isn’t Ready to Let the Balkans In

Balkan nations have been waiting since 2003 for EU accession. They are likely to keep waiting.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
EU member states and Western Balkans representatives pose in Slovenia.
EU member states and Western Balkans representatives pose at the EU-Western Balkans summit at Brdo Castle near Kranj, Slovenia, on Oct. 5. JOE KLAMAR/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: European Union and Western Balkans leaders hold a summit in Slovenia, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan meets Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Switzerland, and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announces his candidacy in the Philippines’s presidential election.

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EU Leaders Meet Exasperated Balkan Counterparts

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: European Union and Western Balkans leaders hold a summit in Slovenia, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan meets Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Switzerland, and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announces his candidacy in the Philippines’s presidential election.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


EU Leaders Meet Exasperated Balkan Counterparts

EU heads of state and government gather in Slovenia today for talks with the leaders of Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia, as the 27-member bloc tries to maintain warm relations with its frustrated neighbors.

Although the EU-Western Balkan summit may look like a forward step for the countries hoping to join, the reality of membership isn’t getting any closer.

A statement to be published following today’s summit seems to underline the limbo these countries are in. Seen by the Associated Press, the draft document endorses further enlargement but doesn’t provide any timeline for the process.

As well as irritating Western Balkan nations, it goes against Slovenia’s pitch, made last week, to integrate all six countries into the union by 2030.

That watered-down acknowledgement is especially jarring for Albania and North Macedonia, which were on the cusp of accession negotiations before French President Emmanuel Macron vetoed them in 2019.

Why the hesitancy? Past experiences of EU enlargement and present problems in the Balkans play a big role.

The Orban effect. As the cases of Poland and Hungary show, just because a country meets the criteria doesn’t necessarily always make for a good fit. When the two countries joined the EU in 2004, they both had largely pro-EU governments. That’s now changed, and the rise of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbans Fidesz party in Budapest and the Law and Justice party in Warsaw has led to a number of headaches for EU leaders, from the curtailing of LBGT rights to questioning the primacy of EU law itself.

Macron’s veto. As is to be expected with a group of 27 democracies, there are also domestic considerations, especially around immigration and financial support for poorer nations. Nowhere is that more apparent than in France, where Macron’s veto of EU negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia may have had more than bureaucratic concerns about EU enlargement behind it.

Polls in France indicate strong opposition to EU enlargement into the Balkans. A recent study from the Open Society European Policy Institute found 60 percent of French people were opposed to Western Balkan countries joining the European Union. Macron is unlikely to change his stance as he faces a strong right-wing challenge in next year’s presidential contest.

Neighborhood problems. Then there are the countries themselves. Montenegro is the only Balkan candidate in the top half of Transparency International’s corruption rankings, and organized crime remains rife in some nations, especially Albania.

For others, the scars of war are still raw, turning a recent dispute between Serbia and Kosovo over car license plates into a border standoff.

Strategic defeat? Catherine Ashton, the former EU foreign-policy chief, is one of the voices pushing for expansion. In an op-ed she co-authored in Politico, Ashton warns that by continuing to prevaricate on the Western Balkans, the European Union is embracing a “strategic defeat.”

It also invites “those who do not share its norms and values onto its frontiers,” presumably a reference to Russia and China, which have enhanced their efforts to gain a foothold in the region through investment and, more recently, vaccine diplomacy.

As the Atlantic Council’s Benjamin Haddad and Damir Marusic wrote in Foreign Policy in August, some Balkan nations are not waiting. Open Balkan, an initiative announced in July, aims to further integrate Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia’s economies.

Talking to officials on the ground in the three countries, Haddad and Marusic found both optimism and disillusionment, where betting on Europe “is increasingly becoming a liability with jaded voters tired of hearing about unfulfilled promises.”


What We’re Following Today

U.S.-China ties. U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan meets today with Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, in Switzerland. The surprise talks are the second time the two have met in person and follow discussions in Alaska in March, which began with Yang berating Sullivan and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken before the cameras.

According to the South China Morning Post, which first reported the meeting, the aim is to “rebuild communication channels and implement consensus reached” between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden ahead of a possible virtual summit.

Iran-Russia talks. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is in Moscow today for talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. The two are expected to discuss Iran’s return to the nuclear negotiating table in Vienna as well as developments in the Caucasus region, where Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has criticized Tehran for holding military exercises near its border. In a television interview on Sunday, Amir-Abdollahian said Iran “is serious about the negotiations, and we will return to the negotiations soon,” but he didn’t provide specifics.


Keep an Eye On

Romania’s new government. Romania’s government fell on Tuesday after it failed to survive a vote of no confidence brought by the opposition Social Democratic Party. The move comes a month after Save Romania Union, a party originally in coalition with Romanian Prime Minister Florin Citu’s National Liberal Party, withdrew its support in a dispute over a regional development fund. Citu will remain in his post in a caretaker capacity while a new government is negotiated.

Another Marcos in Manila? Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the namesake and son of the late Philippine dictator, filed his candidacy for the country’s May presidential elections on Tuesday. Last week, the younger Marcos, known by his nickname Bongbong, came second in a poll of prospective candidates, with Sara Duterte-Carpio the mayor of Davao City and daughter of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, coming in first. Despite speculation (partly fueled by her father), Duterte-Carpio has maintained she will not run for president in 2022.


Odds and Ends

Define “relationship.” The Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary award, abruptly announced new anti-nepotism rules on Tuesday, caving to public pressure over the inclusion of an author on the prize’s shortlist who is in a romantic relationship with a prize juror.

The new rules now state no works of relatives, spouses, or partners can be considered by the 10-person jury. Camille Laurens, the juror in question, had previously survived a vote of confidence because she was neither married to or lived in the same city as her partner, author François Noudelmann.

Certain details did not help Noudelmann and Laurens in their case. Noudelmann dedicates his book, The Children of Cadillac, to “C.L.” while his partner drew attention by writing a scathing review of a rival book in consideration.

Noudelmann will now miss his chance to win the famously tiny 10-euro prize and the literary immortality afforded previous winners like writers Simone de Beauvoir and Marcel Proust.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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