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Eastern enlargement in focus as Meloni joins EU leaders

European capital and Western Balkans discussed EU accession, a key item on the European Council’s agenda. Rome is working to make sure that Ukraine and Moldova are also included in the enlargement process

The EU looks at enlargement… European Union and Western Balkans leaders met on Wednesday before the final European Council of 2023. The six (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia) are all aspirant EU members. The bloc’s enlargement is on the summit’s agenda – along with discussions on the accession of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. 

It’s (geo)political. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and the Middle Eastern crisis continue putting “European and global security at risk,” stated the EU leaders after the summit, reiterating the importance of “strategic partnership between the EU and the Western Balkans region” to “[bring] about ever closer ties and deeper cooperation.”

  • While expanding the EU looked like a distant prospect only a few years ago, the Russian invasion of Ukraine instilled a sense of urgency as the EU strives to expand its geopolitical influence. 
  • However, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán still opposes Ukraine’s accession and threatens to veto the opening of formal membership talks with the country, making it difficult for the EU to accelerate Kyiv’s accession at a time when support to Ukraine is weakening.

Rome’s position. Italian PM Giorgia Meloni, who took part in the EU-Balkans summit, signalled once again Italy’s strong support for their accession. Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, on the sidelines of the European People’s Party (EPP) summit in Brussels on Thursday, said that Italy supports “starting negotiations with BiH” and accelerating negotiations on existing candidacies. 

  • PM Meloni also attended a bilateral meeting with Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani on the sidelines of the EU-Western Balkans Summit, where she called on Belgrade and Pristina to adopt de-escalation measures and work towards stabilisation.

A leading role in the Balkans. Beyond sizable economic ties in the Western Balkans, Italy has been participating with its military contingents in international peacekeeping and stabilisation efforts. Rome remains among the most important players in the EU- and US-led mediation process between Pristina and Belgrade: it’s slated to regain command of the NATO KFOR peacekeeping operation and currently oversees the rule-of-law EULEX mission.

  • As of July 2023, Italy was the second-largest trading partner of the states in the Western Balkans and the largest in terms of direct investments, with exports of over €6 billion and thousands of Italian companies operating in the region.
  • Most recently, PM Meloni travelled to Serbia for a State visit and said that the EU “must not be a club where we decide who is European and who is not.”
  • Back in April, the Italian FM had chaired a meeting with his colleagues from Western Balkans states, including both Serbia and Kosovo, intended to consolidate Italy’s role in the region’s European Union accession process.
  • Finally, Italian PM Giorgia Meloni had also called to “reunite” European countries – Balkanic countries, Moldova and Ukraine – within the EU at the European Political Community summit in Chisinau.

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