Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama also spoke out in favor of closer ties to the EU

Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama also spoke out in favor of closer ties to the EU

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Corrupt officials in Bulgaria are said to have helped thousands of foreigners from non-EU countries to obtain Bulgarian passports for a fee. The public prosecutor’s office announced in Sofia that they were investigating employees of the Bulgarians Abroad. The officials were accused of bribery, forgery of documents, abuse of office and the formation of a criminal organization. With the passports, the buyers have become Bulgarian citizens – as such, they can move around the EU countries without a visa.

According to media reports, the forged passports were sold to buyers in Ukraine, Moldova and Macedonia. Bulgarian minorities live in these three countries who can apply for a passport from the EU country Bulgaria if they can prove their ancestry. The suspected officials are now accused of having given forged evidence to non-Bulgarians in exchange for payment.

Suspects were arrested

According to the judiciary, the officials demanded around 5000 euros for such a fake proof. The police arrested the head of the Bulgarians Abroad and around 20 other suspects, the media reported. They are said to have issued around 30 falsified documents per week. The judiciary initially did not want to give any further details.

Bulgaria has been a member of the EU since 2007. The freedom to travel was a great incentive for the poor country. Since joining the EU, the number of naturalized Bulgarians abroad has increased significantly, according to government information. In the past ten years, around 115,000 passports have been issued to foreigners of Bulgarian origin, according to the Ministry of Justice.

Sources used: AFP

The Bundestag is in favor of Albania and North Macedonia joining the EU. The parliamentarians accepted two corresponding motions with a large majority. But other EU countries have major concerns.

The Bundestag supports the EU’s plan to start accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. Despite various deficits, one appreciates the reform efforts of the two Balkan states, it says in two motions, which the German parliament accepted with a large majority. Both countries are said to have made considerable progress, but they also have some catching up to do in reforming the judiciary. Further efforts in the fight against corruption and crime are also recommended to North Macedonia.

At the end of May, the EU Commission recommended that member states start accession talks. However, there are significant concerns, particularly in France, but also in the Netherlands and Denmark. France, for example, points to unresolved problems with organized crime, especially in Albania.

Accession conference with a two-stage process

Germany wants to initiate a two-stage process. A first accession conference is not to take place until an electoral reform has been decided in Albania and the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court are operational. A second accession conference is expected to be subject to further conditions, including the implementation of electoral law reform, criminal proceedings against judges and prosecutors, and solid progress in the fight against corruption and organized crime. North Macedonia must also continue to make considerable additional efforts.

Accession negotiations have been ongoing with Montenegro since 2012 and with Serbia since 2014. In contrast, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina are not candidate countries. For Kosovo, this is not even foreseeable because not all EU states have recognized the young republic, including Spain. 

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 Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) welcomed the Bundestag’s vote: "The approval of the German Bundestag to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia is an important signal. The decision underlines the importance that the Western Balkans have for the EU." At the same time, he made it clear that reforms would be rewarded. "Both countries must continue their reform efforts in order to make further progress on the way to the EU", says Maas.

Sources used: dpa news agency

The relationship between Turkey and the EU has been shattered since the attempted coup in July 2016 at the latest. Before the elections in June, Erdogan vows to want to move closer to Europe again.

The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to strengthen relations with Europe if he is re-elected. "We want to strengthen our economic and political relations with various regional structures, especially the European Union"Erdogan said at the launch of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) manifesto in Ankara. The early parliamentary and presidential elections in Turkey will take place on June 24th.

"We will not stop pursuing the EU accession process, which we see as a strategic goal, for mutual benefit"said the President. The ACP program states that there are relations with the EU "no alternative to our other relationships". Regarding the USA, it is said that Turkey wants "overcome the problems", and be it "It is essential to maintain close ties with the USA".

Frosty relations with EU countries

The EU accession talks with Turkey have been on hold since the repression following the attempted coup in July 2016. The relationship with member states such as Germany, Austria and the Netherlands has been frosty since a dispute over the election campaign appearances of Turkish politicians before a controversial constitutional referendum in April 2017, and the imprisonment of German citizens with Berlin also caused tensions.

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Relations with Washington are in turn strained by the dispute over the extradition of the US-exiled Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom Ankara blames for the coup attempt. The support of the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG by the USA is also causing trouble, as Ankara regards it as a terrorist organization due to its proximity to the banned Kurdistan Workers‘ Party (PKK).

Sources used: AFP

An EU with more than 30 member countries? At least the EU Commission considers this to be desirable and lures the Balkan states to Europe. But how likely is it to join? 

The EU is working to bind the countries of the Western Balkans closer to itself. At the summit in Sofia on Thursday, Chancellor Merkel and the other heads of state and government of the EU want to encourage Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo to carry out further reforms.

Austria’s Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl called for the European Union to do more for the region. "The EU has neglected south-east Europe in recent years. Other states such as Russia, China, Turkey and the Gulf states then entered this vacuum"she said "world". The candidate countries should also know that the progress they have made is being honored. A "credible accession perspective" could motivate them to carry out further important reforms.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama: If the Balkans are not accepted into the EU, it will be a shame for Europe. (Source: Simone Kuhlmey / Pacific Press)

Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama also spoke out in favor of closer ties to the EU. "Europe cannot see a better future if it wants to keep us outside its borders"he tells the newspapers of the Funke media group. "If the Western Balkans are left alone outside the EU, then a gray area arises in which other actors could try to harm Europe." But if the Balkans were to be integrated, that would increase Europe’s security.

Balkan states are to be bound to the EU

In order to induce the Balkan states to make more reform efforts, the EU wants to promise them additional support in Sofia. In the draft for the final declaration for the meeting, for example, there is talk of the connection of the countries to the EU "to improve significantly". Specifically, it should be about transport connections, energy supply and economic relations.

In the long term, they should even have the chance of joining the EU. But does an expansion of the State Union make sense at all if the members are already finding it difficult to find a common line?

The arguments of opponents and supporters of enlargement at a glance:

No security in Europe without the Balkans

The Balkan states are located in the middle of the EU and border on member countries such as Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Croatia. "If there is a security problem in one of these countries, it is automatically a security problem for the EU too"said the EU foreign affairs representative Federica Mogherini recently. The hole in the middle of the EU is particularly tricky, as Russia, China and Turkey are currently significantly expanding their influence in the region. With around 18 million inhabitants and comparatively low purchasing power, the six Balkan states currently do not play a particularly important market as a sales market. In the long term, it is of course not Russian or Chinese, but rather European companies that should benefit from the billions in reconstruction aid that the EU has been providing for years. According to its own statements, the EU is by far the most important donor and investor in the Balkans. For 2018 alone, 1.07 billion euros have been earmarked for so-called pre-accession aid – in addition to the almost nine billion euros made available for the period 2007-2017. Organized crime, corruption and major deficits in the rule of law and freedom of the media: From an EU perspective, this is so far none of the Balkan states are ripe for accession. With specific catalogs of requirements, however, Brussels shows how you can get closer to the goal. It is clear to the EU that it will never again want to accept a new state that does not meet all accession requirements. The prospect of EU accession could also promote the resolution of border disputes, because all Balkan states know that with a territorial conflict they will never Can become a member. Specifically, it is about the dispute between Serbia and its breakaway former province of Kosovo, for example.

French President Emmanuel Macron: Before the EU can accept new members, there must be comprehensive reforms in the Union. (Source: Henning Kaiser / dpa)

More countries, more trouble

The EU is already considered cumbersome. This is mainly due to the fact that in areas such as foreign and tax policy, all relevant decisions require unanimity. It was not only French President Emmanuel Macron who therefore called for extensive EU reforms to take place before enlargement. He fears that the Union will otherwise lose its capacity to act. In countries like Germany, France and Austria, many people are skeptical of renewed enlargement. They fear an influx of "Cheap workers", more crime and the inclusion of one "new Greece"that must then be saved from bankruptcy with billions in loans. In view of the EU-skeptical mood, many governments could be tempted to postpone accession – even if the Balkan states actually meet the conditions for admission to the EU. Who thinks that all people in the Western Balkans want nothing more than an EU Accession is wrong. In Serbia, for example, many people are critical of the West. You accuse EU governments of having taken an anti-Serbian position in the Kosovo war (1998–1999). Even in Montenegro, which recently became a member of NATO, significant sections of the population are more drawn to Russia than to the EU. Russia sees the EU’s bid for the Balkans as a provocation and an attack on its own interests. The reason is the close ties that the country has with the Balkans. If Serbia & Co. remained non-aligned states, the tense relations between the EU and Russia would at least not deteriorate further.

Which Balkan country has a chance of joining the EU?

But how great are the chances of the individual Balkan countries joining the EU? Which country really burns for the European idea and for whom is the EU just paying lip service?

Serbia is the largest and most important country in the region. In addition to the many domestic reform construction sites, there are open border issues with almost all neighbors. A particularly difficult chunk is the future of Kosovo, which fell away ten years ago, with almost only Albanian residents.

Albania always causes astonishment in Washington and Brussels when the ghost of one "Greater Albania" being painted on the wall. An unprecedented judicial reform is currently underway, in which the corrupt judges and prosecutors are being fired. After many unsuccessful attempts in neighboring countries, this could become a model – if the reform is carried out to the end.

As the youngest NATO member, Montenegro and Serbia are the closest to joining the EU by 2025. However, Milo Djukanovic, who has just been determined in a controversial election for president, runs the country like his private empire together with his immediate family.

After the head of government Nikola Gruevski, who was entangled in criminal machinations, was replaced by the new reform coalition, Macedonia has a good chance of approaching NATO and the EU quickly. The prerequisite, however, is the agreement with the EU neighbor Greece in the decades-long dispute over the state name.

Bosnia-Herzegovina has been virtually ungovernable for many years because its three peoples (Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats) fight and block each other as much as possible. All attempts at reform initiated from abroad have so far failed.

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Kosovo remains an unfinished state, although the EU and the US had sent billions of euros and an army of diplomats, soldiers and experts of all kinds. The withdrawal of the largest and most expensive EU foreign mission is symptomatic of the situation: Eulex was unable to build democratic structures, fight corruption and crime and deal with war crimes. This made headlines "Rule of Law Mission" on the other hand with their own corruption cases.

Sources used: dpa

With their "Enlargement fatigue" the European Union is losing its attractiveness and influence in south-eastern Europe.