Outgoing European Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in an interview to the FT that the European Union is losing influence “in a region so close to us, historically and geographically” and warned that this will leave a vacuum to be exploited by the EU’s strategic competitors like China and Russia.
Commenting the decision not to open pre-accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, Hahn said that “the EU did not demonstrate the principle of partnership and accountability which we are always preaching and on which we could always rely”.
Hahn said it would take time to undo the damage wrought by the EU’s indecision on expanding membership, but that he was still optimistic because the vast majority of member states supported the commission’s recommendation to open negotiation with Skopje and Tirana. “At the moment everyone is perplexed and paralysed, but I hope we can overcome this as soon as possible . . . There are many areas where we as Europeans have to deliver.”
Hahn said that he was told by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic shortly after the decision that it was “unclear why he should, after recent developments, be motivated to enter into negotiations” with Kosovo. According to Hahn, the commission spent years laying the political framework for an agreement and sent the wrong message to regional leaders. “The accession process is merit-based and if we don’t acknowledge progress there will be no incentive for reforms,” he said.
He said that Serbia has been “backsliding, not progressing” on aligning its foreign and security policy with Brussels, recalling that Belgrade joined the Eurasian Economic Union recently. Hahn said that rejected proposals for anything short of full EU membership for all the western Balkan countries. “I have always said that my vision is to prepare each candidate country to . . . be a full member from day one, including participation in the Schengen [passport-free travel] area,” he said.