No Balkan countries to join EU until border disputes resolved
The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has said no Western Balkan country will be allowed to join the European Union as long as border disputes are not resolved.
Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg that under his presidency no countries with border issues would be allowed in and that a lot of responsibility bore on the shoulders of Croatia and Slovenia.
The two countries are both EU member states and have been locked in a land and sea border dispute for years. Slovenia joined the bloc in 2004 and Croatia in 2013.
"There cannot be any enlargement without border disputes being resolved. These problems must be resolved or there won't be any accession," Juncker stressed.
The president's warning came after Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenković gave a speech to the Parliament where he was invited for a Future of Europe debate, a series of discussions between EU leaders and MEPs.
Plenković emphasised that Croatia was open for dialogue on the issue and that the topic was "overblown" by certain politicians.
A number of Balkan countries, such as Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania all aspire to join the bloc.
Juncker also mentioned that the EU did not specify that Western Balkan countries had to join by 2025 but that it was an "indicative date, a perspective to motivate countries to continue reforms".
In his speech, Juncker also complained about the lack of applause after mentioning the construction of a bridge in Croatia thanks to the EU Cohesion Fund. He said development in newer member states should not be forgotten.
On Tuesday, the EU Commission announced six initiatives the EU will take over the coming years to support the transformation efforts of the Western Balkans in areas of mutual interest.
These initiatives will aim to strengthen the rule of law, reinforce cooperation on security and migration, as well as expand the EU Energy Union, lower roaming charges and roll out broadband in the region.
"Although there will be no further enlargements under this mandate, today the European Commission is charting the European path ahead for the Western Balkans.
"With strong political will, real and sustainable reforms and definitive solutions to disputes with neighbours, the Western Balkans can move forward on their respective European paths," Juncker said.