Brussels would likely alienate the Western Balkans if it gives preference to Kiev’s bid, Austria’s foreign minister has said
The European Union must not put Ukraine’s accession bid in the “fast lane” while delaying applications from the Western Balkans, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg has said.
He also called for an overhaul of the EU’s entire enlargement procedure, warning that Kiev may never be admitted to the bloc without such reform.
Earlier this month, the European Commission recommended that formal accession negotiations be launched with Ukraine, while saying that Bosnia and Herzegovina had yet to reach the “necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria.”
In an interview with the Financial Times on Thursday, Schallenberg said it would be a “geostrategic disaster” if Brussels were to look to the Western Balkans “with a magnifying glass and with rose-tinted glasses to Ukraine.”
“You cannot have certain groups on the fast lane, others on the service lane,” the diplomat insisted, noting that “equal” signals should be sent “in both directions for geostrategic reasons.” Failure to do this could push long-time hopefuls right into the hands of such actors as China and Russia, Schallenberg warned.
The Austrian minister pointed out that several nations in the Western Balkans have been waiting for the accession process to begin for as long as 20 years.
He went on to claim that the algorithm used by the EU in previous stages of enlargement should be replaced by an incremental one, whereby candidate states would be gradually integrated in sectoral programs and policies before being granted full membership.
Under the old approach, “Ukraine will probably never be part of it… to a certain degree,” Schallenberg predicted.
In September, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer also spoke against fast-tracking Ukraine’s possible accession.
Meanwhile, Reuters, citing an anonymous European official, reported last week that discussions on Kiev’s accession prospects, which were originally slated for December 14 and 15, may now be postponed until March 2024 instead.
Around the same time, EUObserver media outlet, citing an unnamed staffer, claimed there were signs that several member states, including Austria and France, may be reluctant to give the green light to accession talks with Kiev.
Earlier this month, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban suggested that “Ukraine is absolutely not ready to negotiate over its bid for EU membership.”
The unanimous support of all 27 member states is needed to set the negotiations in motion.