Bulgaria Dismisses Threats to EU-Balkan Summit

By Martin Dimitrov, Ana Maria Luca, Maja Zivanovic

All but one heads of government of the five EU states that have not recognized Kosovo as an independent state have confirmed their attendance at the EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia in May, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said.

In a TV interview on Tuesday she said that only Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had not confirmed his attendance of the formal part of the summit between EU member states and the six Western Balkan states on May 17 in Sofia.

It is deemed the most important single event of Bulgaria’s presidency of the Council of the EU.

The statement from the Bulgarian minister comes after Radio Free Europe on March 30 published a report on its Serbian program, saying that EU sources had told the media that Romania and Cyprus would not participate in an event where “Kosovo is treated as a state and where this country is promised the future of European integration”.

Zaharieva brushed aside these claims, saying these are protocol issues that will be dealt with.

She added that Spain's Rajoy will attend the wider informal Foreign Affairs EU council that will take place during the summit, which the six prospective EU members from the Balkans will attend.

BIRN asked the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry and the presidency in Romania to respond to these rumours, but neither institution replied by the time of publication. 

When Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who will represent Romania at the summit in Sofia, met Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in early March, he offered to get involved in mediation efforts over Kosovo. 

“Solving the Kosovo issue will represent an enormous step in the European direction for the whole Western Balkans region, and we will remain in close touch to jointly discuss the potential solutions and the role that Romania can play,” Iohannis told Vucic on March 8.

“We are willing to get involved in finding some good solutions for the whole region,” the President added.

However, Kosovo’s government has asked Romania to recognize its independence first.

“The purpose of this meeting is to give the Western Balkan nations a wider European perspective. The strategy of the European Commission talks about the perspectives of all six of them and I don’t think [the summit] will be a failure,” Zaharieva told bTV on Tuesday.

The question, she added, is what will be included in the the post-summit declaration and who will sign it – the 28 EU member states or the 28 plus the six Western Balkan states.

Serbia has said it will never recognise its former province as an independent state. Five EU countries, some with separatist issues of their own, have also not recognized Kosovo as a state – Romania, Spain, Cyprus, Greece and Slovakia.  

Spanish media reported in March that Rajoy was not planning to attend the EU-Western Balkans summit as he does not want to be in the same picture with Kosovo's President, Hashim Thaci.

Meanwhile, Serbia's Vucic told the media that participation of Serbia remained uncertain. “I can’t tell you at this moment,” he told N1 television on April 3. Vucic added he will know the answer “after talks” he is expecting between April 10 and 17, without mentioning with whom he will talk.

On the same day, Pristina-based website Gazeta Express reported that Kosovo's Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, will attend the Summit.

The EU-Western Balkans summit is seen as the highlight of Sofia’s EU Presidency. It is supposed to “reaffirm the EU's commitment towards its Western Balkans partners and reiterate the region's belonging to the European family, strengthen links between the EU and the Western Balkans in infrastructure, digital and human connectivity and work more closely together to tackle common challenges,” the EU Council statement reads.

However, it also warned that “enlargement ... will not be discussed during the summit.”

Balkan Insight 

13.04.2018

  

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