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Reforms in Balkan countries bring important improvements to the region’s governments and economies, whether or not they result in rapid EU membership, the EU enlargement commissioner said on 7 December.
“I prefer not to talk about enlargement negotiations but about a process,” said Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood policy and Enlargement Negotiations. “They are not only taking over the acquis, but they are implementing the spirit of the acquis. This is definitely something which takes time.”
Hahn was talking at a Friends of Europe Policy Summit on the Balkans and their integration into the EU. While movement towards EU membership is the headline topic for the six Western Balkan countries, they are also trying to modernise their economies. That means improving transport and information communications inside each country, within the region and with the rest of Europe. Such moves are essential given the high unemployment in the region, especially among young people.
Integration has long been a goal, both for the Western Balkan states and the EU, but the past few years have seen a number of setbacks. The refugee crisis that started in 2015 led to public fears of too many outsiders entering the EU, and was accompanied by talk that some of the migrants might have links to terrorist groups.
In April 2016, Dutch voters rejected the EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine in an advisory referendum – a signal that EU public opinion is turning against enlargement. And in June, British voters chose to leave the EU by a small majority, triggering uncertainty over the future of the European project.
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