EU-Western Balkans Summit: an increasing desire for Italy is there
28 febbraio 2023
Di Nicasia Picciano
The first ever summit between the European Union and the six Western Balkans countries took place in Tirana on the 6 of December. It has been an opportunity to reiterate the importance of the strategic relation between Bruxelles and its neighbours. What’s more, it has reconfirmed the full and unequivocal commitment to the European Union membership perspective of the Western Balkans. Also, it has reaffirmed the common willingness and the engagement of jointly managing the impact of the Russian war against Ukraine, and therefore of reinforcing their common security and strategic cooperation as well as of embracing and pursuing common values.
The day the summit took place in the Albanian capital the European Commission published a declaration, by outlining that the European Union and the Western Balkans share joint values, responsibilities, and a common future. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, thanked Edi Rama, the first Prime Minister of Albania, for hosting such an important event. Von der Leyen added that this historical moment sends a strong message in terms of common engagement, unity, and strong partnership.
Ahead of the summit, Edi Rama recalled that Tirana was becoming the stage of a huge political event with all EU and leaders in the region, meeting to discuss stringent common issues: enlargement, war in Ukraine, and energy prices. Olivér Várhelyi, European Commission for enlargement and neighborhood policy tweeted -at the opening of the summit- that the Western Balkans are integral part of the European family: “we share a continent. We are connected through history, economy, politics, and our families.” The strategic relation between Bruxelles, Tirana, Sarajevo, Pristina, Belgrade, Podgorica and Skopje has been stressed by Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. He has also added that the region has a clear European perspective.
At the European level, Italy seems willing to open up an important space in foreign policy starting from the Western Balkans. Undoubtedly, such determination has been openly declared by the Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. The Italian Premier has reaffirmed the engagement of Italy for the region, confirming that the summit has been very important. She recalled that the first foreign mission of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Antonio Tajani, and his colleague Guido Crosetto, Minister of Defence, took place – about once month after the new government took office – in Belgrade and Pristina. Meloni stated that she also had a bilateral meeting with Alexander Vučić, the Serbian President, without releasing the content. The Italian Prime Minister added that there is “a great desire of Italy in the region.” She also mentioned how the Western Balkans are also a European security issue above all with a look at the Russian war against Ukraine. Meloni has openly said that “joining the EU for the Western Balkans is a strategic issue specifically in this moment …. clearly these are processes asking for bilateral relations, and steps on both sides and requiring time.” Also, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte underlined the importance of the security issue related to the Ukraine war as well as the joint engagement of working together for sustaining Kiev and facing the migration issue.
Together with the Bel Paese which is assertively committing itself – under the new executive – for having a voice at the European, regional, and global level, Germany too is among the European countries – under the government of Olaf Scholz – engaging with decisiveness for speeding up the enlargement process for the Western Balkans. The German Chancellor made this a priority in foreign policy. Scholz described the Tirana Declaration as “a commitment to enlargement“. His French colleague, Emmanuel Macron, affirmed that the presence of Paris at the summit is a confirmation of its engagement in support of its partners in the region.
In the meanwhile, voices in the Western Balkans on the meeting in Tirana have been accompanied by optimism and firm willingness of cooperation. Vjosa Osmani, President of Kosovo, commented that such a summit is an important engagement between the European Union and the Western Balkans with the hope that Bruxelles speeds up the enlargement process for the region. At the same time, Osmani has declared that Pristina would have submitted – by the end of the year and with the hope of full support of the EU Member States – its membership application. This in fact occurred on the 15 December of this year. Besides that, she reiterated the complexity of the whole process, by reminding that Kosovo is working hard with each Member State with a view to getting their support. Ditmir Bushati, Minister for Europe and for Foreign Affairs of Albania in 2013-2019, commented that the Tirana summit represents a new dynamism in the relations EU-Western Balkans. Also, he expressly said that the adhesion of the remaining countries should finally turn into reality.
The Tirana summit seems thus sketching out positive horizons for a new long-term engagement between Bruxelles and the countries in the region. Clearly, words should become deeds, and this will obviously ask for further commitments and efforts from both sides. In the meantime, the first block has been set up and the wish is that others will follow. The meeting in the Albanian capital has, without doubts, strengthened the relations between the EU and the Western Balkans. All that remains is to wait for the results and hopefully consistent ones.