BRUSSELS (AP) – European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Tuesday warned Balkan countries hoping to join the EU that none will be invited until they have resolved all border disputes with their neighbors.
The prospect of European Union membership has been a powerful incentive for reform in the Western Balkans region, which was torn apart by war in the 1990s, but tensions still linger. Serbia and Montenegro, the latter a member of NATO, are well-placed to join should the 28-nation bloc open its doors again to new members. Croatia was the last country to join, almost five years ago.
“There can be no further accession for Western Balkans countries without border disputes having first been resolved,” Juncker, the head of the bloc’s executive arm, told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France.
Juncker’s warning came after a speech to the European Parliament by Croatia Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.
Croatia and Slovenia – both EU members – are locked in a border dispute stemming from the breakup of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Among their points of dispute, they disagree over an international ruling granting Slovenia unhindered access to the Adriatic Sea.
Juncker suggested that Serbia and Montenegro might be able to join in 2025 if they meet all membership conditions.
“That is an indicative date; an encouragement so that the parties concerned work hard to follow that path,” he said.
Macedonia has met many conditions for membership, but its candidacy has been held up by a dispute with Greece over the tiny Balkans republic’s name. Albania also hopes to become a member of Europe’s rich club. The chances of Kosovo or Bosnia joining anytime soon seem distant.
Further east, Turkey is also a candidate for EU membership but its accession talks are at a standstill.
Austria, France and Germany are notably cool on Turkey joining, while Manfred Weber, the head of the European People’s Party – the biggest bloc in the European Parliament – insisted that the EU should remain a Christian club.
“Our democracies, welfare states and social market economies could only arise because of our Christian values of responsibility, solidarity and freedom,” he said. “There will only be a Europe that sticks to its Christian heritage or no Europe at all.”