The start of accession talks is an important step on the way to joining the EU, but it should not be confused with membership itself, argue the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Visegrád group in a joint op-ed for Politico.
They emphasise that the EU integration is a finely balanced merit-based process that aims to help the Western Balkan countries reform and prepare for EU membership while improving the quality of life of their citizens
“The years needed to complete accession talks will also provide the EU with sufficient time to thoroughly discuss and introduce changes needed for the smooth functioning of the EU before and after the admission of new members”, write Tomáš Petříček, Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic, Péter Szijjártó, Foreign Minister of Hungary, Jacek Czaputowicz, Foreign Minister of Poland and Miroslav Lajčák, Foreign Minister of Slovakia.
They also stress that incorporating the Western Balkans into the Union is in the political, economic and security interests of the EU.
“A positive decision will send a clear signal that the EU recognizes concrete results in meeting the conditions it sets out. It will provide the region with a fresh impetus for further reforms and transformation”, argue the Foreign Ministers.
They remind that the North Macedonia and Albania have met the criteria the EU set out for them, by putting in place complex domestic reforms. Moreover, North Macedonia has concluded the historic Prespa Agreement with Greece, resolving the long-standing dispute over the country’s name.
“The issues before us (Brexit, migration, instability in the neighborhood, the start of the new European Commission) must not distract us from what the EU has been able to achieve in the Western Balkans — and what we can still accomplish by sticking to the commitments we made in the region”, they wrote.
By enabling North Macedonia and Albania to take the next step in the integration process, the EU will acknowledge the fact that only through the integration of the Western Balkans can the EU be complete and its long-term interests properly safeguarded, the ministers conclude.