Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pays his respects at a convoy carrying remains of the Srebrenica genocide victims, in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 9, 2019. Picture: REUTERS / DADO RUVIC
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pays his respects at a convoy carrying remains of the Srebrenica genocide victims, in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 9, 2019. Picture: REUTERS / DADO RUVIC

Mount Jahorina — Short-sighted anti-immigrant populism in some EU member states has blocked the integration of Western Balkan countries into the EU, weakening the region’s stability, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday. 

He was speaking at a 12-nation Balkans summit where leaders voiced deep disappointment at lack of EU follow-through on promises to open membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania, opposed by northern EU countries.

In June, EU governments unexpectedly put off a decision to start the talks with the two and cast doubt on the bloc’s strategy to counter a growing Russian and Chinese presence in the Balkans.

Erdogan and other speakers at the Balkans gathering held near the Bosnian capital Sarajevo criticised the EU for reluctance to pursue further enlargement of the bloc.

“Recently, we have seen that some short-sighted populist circles have blocked EU enlargement policy. Negative trends toward division and discrimination have spread across the continent and endanger not only internal peace within the EU but ... hope and potential of the [Balkans] region.”

The EU’s appetite for further enlargement was eroded by anti-immigration sentiment among voters and increased criticism of the 28-nation bloc’s already complex and lumbering decision-making processes.

France and the Netherlands, supported by Denmark, also may seek further conditions such as more reform to tackle corruption and organised crime in Albania and Macedonia.

Turkey’s bid for EU membership, launched in 2004, has been stalled for years, with EU officials citing Ankara’s disregard for human rights and civil liberties under Erdogan. Some EU leaders want the talks to be scrapped. Erdogan blames the impasse on prejudice against Muslims.

Montenegro President Milo Djukanovic called on other Western Balkan leaders to come up with a clear, common approach regarding expectations for relations with the EU.

“We are concerned about the enlargement policy being slowed down and being made vague,” Djukanovic said. Other countries of the region had also received discouraging signals on the EU accession process.

Djukanovic said the EU failed to abolish visa requirements for Kosovo citizens or approve the opening of the last chapter in Montenegro’s accession process, while postponing the approval of Bosnia’s candidate status for later in 2019.

“I believe the issue of a real enlargement perspective will have to be opened very soon – whether we, the countries of the Western Balkans and the EU, are privileged partners or we are going back to the position of neighbours who [merely] share concern about the future of our common continent,” he said.

Western Balkans states that made up the former Yugoslavia were wracked by ethnic war in the 1990s and tensions linger.

Erdogan also paid homage to victims of the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica, laying flowers on trucks bearing the coffins of 33 of the 8,000 Muslim men and boys massacred by Bosnian Serb forces. The remains, exhumed from mass graves, will be reburied in a ceremony on July 11, the massacre anniversary.

Reuters