EU commission urges Germany to back enlargement
Brussels — EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn urged Germany Tuesday not to threaten an "anchor of stability" in the Balkans by putting the brakes on European Union enlargement.
"We can’t take any sabbatical from our invaluable work for stability and societal progress in the Western Balkans, which is essentially provided by the European perspective," Rehn told a press conference in Brussels.
"That is an essential driver of reforms and an anchor of stability in southeastern Europe," he added.
The comments came after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU party called for a lull in EU enlargement once Croatia has become the bloc’s 28th member, in its manifesto for European elections on June 7.
"The enlargement of the EU from 15 to 27 members within a few years … has required great efforts. As a result the CDU prefers a phase of consolidation, during which a consolidation of the European Union’s values and institutions should take priority over further EU enlargement," it said.
Croatia hopes to join the EU in 2010 or 2011.
Rehn recognised that Europe is "currently going through a very challenging political context, with the financial crisis, economic recession, the forthcoming European elections and the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty."
However, he added, "the EU is able to handle several things at the same time," and enlargement should not be put on hold.
At the moment Slovenia is the only nation to emerge from the former Yugoslavia and become an EU member.
Montenegro, which split from Serbia in 2006, formally applied in December to join the EU but Germany — backed by Belgium and the Netherlands — is blocking the application being passed to the Commission, according to diplomats.
Turkey, the only other official EU candidate nation, has seen its membership bid stalled by its row with EU member Cyprus and reluctance elsewhere to allow a large, and largely Muslim, nation into the club.
The CDU manifesto said it favoured "a privileged partnership" for Turkey rather than full EU membership.
"When it comes to Turkey, we want … very close relations but not full membership," Merkel said.