EU membership not 'next question' for Balkans

15th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

15 March 2006, BERLIN - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that European Union membership was "not the next question" for countries in the Western Balkans given the region's more fundamental problems.

15 March 2006

BERLIN - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that European Union membership was "not the next question" for countries in the Western Balkans given the region's more fundamental problems.

Speaking at a news briefing with Slovene Prime Minister Janez Jansa, Chancellor Merkel said the current EU role in the Western Balkans was far deeper than mere talks aimed at membership.

Financial aid, EU troops serving in the region, and economic development programmes went "above and beyond classical membership negotiations" conducted by the bloc, she said.

"Therefore the question of full membership is not the next question. It is rather about political stabilisation," said Merkel apparently referring to Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania as well as Kosovo which has been under UN administration since 1999.

Merkel noted that political stabilisation did not mean there could never be full EU membership for these countries. But she stressed "the path in this direction is totally different and depends on different steps."

The German leader said that with the exception of Croatia, which began EU negotiations last year, this applied to the entire region.

EU foreign ministers, who met in Salzburg, Austria last week, were careful not to set any deadline for Western Balkans countries to join the EU and added a new hurdle by saying the "absorption capacity" of the present member states had to be taken into account.

Both Merkel and Jansa said they did not believe that problems in the Western Balkans could be resolved without the prospect of closer ties to the EU as a carrot.

Jansa termed the EU role in bringing peace to the region as "essential," adding: "These countries are naturally European ... and I believe they will fulfil the criteria for (EU) membership."

Slovenia joined the EU in 2004 with 10 mainly central European countries.

Following highly successful economic reforms, Slovenia appears to be the only one of the 10 new members to be on track to join the euro single currency next year.

DPA

Subject: German news

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