Question: Can you comment please on the outcome of the EU-Western Balkans summit, which took place on May 6, 2020 via video conference? In particular, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said during a press conference following the summit that “the Western Balkans belong in the EU,” while Andrej Plenkovic, the Prime Minister of Croatia, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, said: “If we look at geography, there is nowhere else they [the Balkan countries] can go.”
Maria Zakharova: The essence and tone of these comments have reaffirmed once again that the EU continues to look at the Western Balkans as an exclusive zone of its geopolitical responsibility, something of which it accused others before.
Another piece of evidence regarding this are some of the formulas sealed in the so-called Zagreb Declaration adopted following the video summit. It is difficult to understand the reasons for including certain phrases into the declaration, which the Western Balkan countries were invited to sign, according to which the support and cooperation provided by the EU in the fight against the coronavirus goes far beyond what any other partner has provided. In our opinion, the politicisation of the international efforts against the pandemic is unacceptable and is making one wonder about the selflessness of the EU support.
It is also alarming that EU conditions for progress at the accession talks with the candidate countries include an increasingly open demand that they strictly comply with the EU foreign policy recommendations, even though these recommendations are developed without these countries’ involvement and therefore cannot ensure full respect for their legitimate interests. The Western Balkan countries are expected to actively contribute to the EU campaign against “disinformation” and other “hybrid activities.” The Western Balkan countries’ adherence to EU values, rules and standards is unambiguously presented as a condition for their further rapprochement, including the provision of pre-accession assistance. This can hardly be seen as anything other than open blackmail. This also makes one wonder about the EU’s commitment to the Copenhagen criteria of accession, adopted in 1993, which prioritise the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy in the candidate countries rather than their foreign policies.
We call on the EU to respect the Balkan countries and not to usurp their right to determine their development vector, policy and cooperation with other countries.