Juncker’s Silence on Enlargement Alarms Balkan Watchers

September 14, 2016
The decision of the European Commission President not to mention EU enlargement in his annual speech has left Balkan observers feeling concerned and disappointed.
Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: Etienne Ansotte/European Audiovisual Service

Jean-Claude Juncker’s failure to mention EU enlargement in his annual address to MEPs on Wednesday has alarmed observers of affairs in the Balkans – where several countries are hoping to join the club in the next few years.

“Hugely disappointing. @JunckerEU makes no mention of #EU enlargement in #SOTEU. Will be noted in #Balkans,” James Ker-Lindsay, Senior Research Fellow in the London School of Economics, focusing on the Balkan region, tweeted on Wednesday.

The Turkish Delegation to the EU also reacted with concern immediately after the state-of-the-union address.

“good speech & can agree with most. Yet rather inward-looking, even on defense. No mention of #enlargement. Is it so toxic?”, the Turkish mission asked in its official Twitter profile.

Not surprisingly, Juncker used his annual address to rally for support for the EU, which is suffering an existential crisis, deepened by Britain’s decision to leave the Union following a referendum on June 23.

He said that lack of unity and solidarity and the rise of populism were the greatest challenges facing Europe today.

He also proposed setting up a joint European military headquarters as a step towards setting up a common military force.

Greece was the first country in the Balkans to join the EU in 1981, followed by Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 and Croatia in 2013.

A number of other countries in the Balkans cherish active hopes of joining the club, starting with Serbia, Montenegro and Albania.

Macedonia’s membership hopes have languished following its failure to resolve a long-running dispute with Greece over its name while Turkish membership has also been kicked into the long grass owing to growing controversy about the country’s democratic credentials.

Disputes with Serbia over Kosovo’s status as an independent country mean Kosovo’s membership is also a distant prospect.