Enlarging and strengthening Europe – Foreign Minister Baerbock travels to Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina

Foreign Minister Baerbock with Milojko Spajić, Prime Minister of Montenegro 

Foreign Minister Baerbock with Milojko Spajić, Prime Minister of Montenegro, © picture alliance / empics | Victoria Jones

04.03.2024 - Article

The six Western Balkan countries are right at the heart of Europe. Given the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, pushing ahead with enlargement is especially important for the EU, but for enlargement to happen the candidate countries have to engage in reform.

Today, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is setting off on a trip to the Western Balkans where her talks will focus on EU enlargement policy. First, the Foreign Minister is destined for the Montenegrin capital Podgorica before travelling on to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. All six Western Balkan countries are on the road to EU membership: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. Particularly since the start of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, it has become a geopolitical necessity to draw the region closer to the EU quickly. Progress on the road towards EU membership is decisive. This will require reforms in the candidate countries, as well as unity and cohesion within the EU. What is more, the EU must undertake reforms to prepare for the day when more than 30 member states have a seat at the EU table.

There are clear criteria for the EU enlargement process. Candidate countries often face a difficult accession process designed to make them ready to join the EU. Before becoming a member, central democratic and rule-of-law principles have to be guaranteed. Thorough preparations are also required to enable the country to enter the single market. The European Commission and the member states are doing all they can to bolster reforms in each country providing financial and technical support.

Foreign Minister Baerbock issued the following statement today (4 March) before leaving for Podgorica:

The countries of the Western Balkans are an integral part of our Europe. Doing everything in our power to support the six countries in the region along their path towards the European Union has, in view of Russia’s brutal imperialism, become a geopolitical necessity, if it wasn’t before.

We cannot afford to tolerate any grey areas in Europe, and together we must do everything we can to protect flanks which Russia could use for its policy of destabilisation, disinformation and subversion. This includes helping the countries of the Western Balkans to strengthen their democratic institutions, improve their resilience and offer their people economic prospects.

Montenegro – considerable progress since EU negotiations began in 2012

Montenegro, the country nestled at the Adriatic coast, has made considerable headway in the enlargement process, progressing further than all other candidate countries. Accession negotiations between the EU and the Government of Montenegro have been underway since 2012. Talks have been launched in all fields, in all 33 so-called negotiating chapters, and Montenegro is working on its reform catalogue. Prime Minister Spajić’s Government in Podgorica which took office in late October 2023 is endeavouring to inject new momentum into the accession process. It has announced reform and Germany will continue to provide support for implementation.

In NATO, Montenegro has been our ally for several years. In the EU accession process, Montenegro has set itself an ambitious agenda and is now once again tackling it with determination. We want to work together to use this new enthusiasm and support Montenegro as a close partner and good friend along its path towards EU membership. In Podgorica the focus will be not least on how Montenegro can make even more progress in the area of rule of law reform and the fight against corruption and organised crime, and how we can support the country in this endeavour.
– Foreign Minister Baerbock prior to her departure for Podgorica

Bosnia and Herzegovina at a crossroads in the EU accession process

In December 2023, the European Council decided that accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina are to be opened when the accession criteria have been met to the required degree. A new European Commission report on the reforms is due to be released in March focusing on how much progress the country has made regarding the key priorities identified by the EU. Based on this report, the European Council is expected to consider again in late March whether accession negotiations can begin.

Along the path towards the EU, the leaders in Sarajevo need to take steps to consistently implement the necessary reforms. The adoption of the law to tackle money laundering and terrorist financing was one such European reform requirement. In view of the local elections due to take place in October, tackling electoral reform with an integrity package is now crucial. Free and fair elections are the foundation of a democratic society. In this context we are taking a determined stand against those who, through their divisive fantasies, are hampering Bosnia and Herzegovina’s progress towards the EU and calling European values into question.
- Foreign Minister Baerbock prior to her departure for Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina

Following her trip to the Western Balkans, Foreign Minister Baerbock will travel to Paris for a working visit. The talks with her French counterpart Stéphane Séjourné will centre on current European and foreign policy issues. The focus will be on Europe’s support for Ukraine. For more than two years now, Ukrainians have been defending their country, and with it also Europe’s peace and security, against Russia’s imperialism.


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