Hahn: European perspective, the only guarantee for the Balkans
In his last address as EU Enlargement Commissioner, Johannes Hahn stated that the Western Balkans was not a suburb of Europe, but part of it.
In his report to the European Parliament on the Western Balkans, the Commissioner for Accession Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, said that the prospect of EU accession was the biggest impetus for reforms and processes in the region.
The outgoing Commissioner in charge of EU enlargement policy in his last address to the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee reiterated that it was a historic mistake not to decide to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania.
He pointed out that in the Western Balkans, everyone was encouraged by every positive step towards European integration, but also vice versa.
"If we do not move forward, we lose influence in the countries of the region”, Hahn said. He cited Belgrade-Prishtina dialogue as an example, stating that both sides want to "make progress and keep up with the region".
"From Serbia's perspective, the idea of striking an agreement with Kosovo will only make sense if there is a prospect of EU accession", Hahn warned.
Asked about relations between Serbia and Russia, Hahn stressed that one of the key issues was the alignment of Serbia's foreign policy with that of the EU, noting that both Serbia and EU member states could hear misinformation when it comes to relations between Moscow and Belgrade.
"Hardly anyone knows that Serbia organizes more military exercises with NATO than with Russia. Moreover, completely different information can be heard in Serbia. Everyone has to send the right information to both partner countries and member states”, Hahn said.
Talking about reform of enlargement policy, Johannes Hahn said that there is much talk about the rule of law and that the opening of accession negotiations does not automatically mean EU accession.
He assessed, however, that the EU already has several instruments at its disposal to respond to developments in the enlargement process.
"It is important for us to continue the dialogue with the member states, but also to provide support for the economic development of the region because economic growth affects the development of the rule of law", Hahn said. He reiterated that he believed that the EU internal reform and enlargement process could and should go hand in hand.
"If you just focus on internal reforms, once when that is over, we should go back to enlargement, the Western Balkan countries expect a postponement of the EU perspective for the next 30 years, which is neither realistic nor credible", Hahn says.
Johannes Hahn said that reforms in the Western Balkans would not happen without EU pressure, or citizens' desire to join the EU. He also warned that the brain drain is undermining the social development of the Western Balkans.
“The Western Balkans is not a suburb of Europe, but part of Europe. We cannot have a situation where the population is leaving the country. This will contribute to a vacuum, that can create a security risk”, Hahn concluded.