Budapest warns about increasing Russia, Turkey and US influence in the Balkans

Orban: "We have to accept Montenegro as soon as possible and speed up the accession of Macedonia and Serbia." [European People's Party/Flickr]

The increasing influence of Moscow and Ankara in Western Balkans has raised eyebrows in the center-right political parties, which urge for a revival of EU aspirations in the region. euractiv.com reports from Malta.

At its annual congress last week in Malta, the European People’s Party adopted a resolution saying that the EU should “not get caught up in enlargement fatigue” and keep alive a pro-EU spirit in Western Balkan countries by backing their EU aspirations.

However, the center-right leaders made it clear that the fulfilment of the Copenhagen criteria and commitment to maintaining good neighbourly relations were still there.

EU leaders concerned over ‘return of Balkan demons’

EU leaders voiced concern yesterday (9 March) about “external influences” fueling division in the western Balkans, as Britain announced a summit to focus efforts on stabilising a key region vulnerable to Russian meddling.

Russia and Turkey

The resolution recognised an increasing influence of third countries “especially from the east and the south” on a political and financial level as well as disinformation campaigns.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković stressed that a stronger EU engagement was needed.

“If we are hesitant or slow to bring them more rapidly closer to us others will not hesitate and drift them away from the EU,” he said, underlining that no one would like to see such a scenario.

Sources told euractiv.com that during their discussion, the center-right leaders focused on Russia and Turkey stressing that they have an agenda whose objective is to weaken the EU.

“They know that lower stability in the Western Balkans is a risk for Europe and we know that in the long term there is no alternative than joining the EU,” the sources emphasised.

Russia: Commission should play a more positive role in the Western Balkans

Speaking to EURACTIV.com, Russia’s Ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, criticised the European Commission’s handling of the crises in Macedonia and Kosovo, and regretted the “hysteria” over alleged Russian interference in Montenegro.

EU and US made “huge mistakes”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán admitted that the EU was faced with a “foreign policy crisis” with destabilised Ukraine and boiling Balkans.

Orban attacks the European Court of Human Rights

Speaking today (30 March) at the annual congress of the European People’s Party (EPP) in Malta, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán fiercely attacked migration, calling it a “Trojan Horse of terrorism.” He also attacked the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Orbán stressed that the EU had made “huge mistakes” in the field, pointing out that the failed policies have contributed to the destabilisation of the Middle East and North Africa.

“The fact that we committed this together with the Americans is not an excuse […] we acted like pyromaniac firefighters,” he noted, adding that a new EU foreign policy has to be proclaimed.

For the Hungarian conservative politician, the stability in the Balkans provides a new election in Skopje “as soon as possible”.

Russia accuses NATO, EU and Albania of meddling in Macedonia

Russia accused Albania, NATO and the European Union yesterday (2 March) of trying to impose a pro-Albanian government on Macedonia, which is gripped by political crisis.

“We have to accept Montenegro as soon as possible and speed up the accession of Macedonia and Serbia. My homeland is the gate to the Balkans. I see every day how Russian, Turkish and American influence is growing while the EU is decreasing,” he admitted, adding that this is a bad policy that needs to change.

Young people and the EU

Commenting on the resolution, Siegfried Mureșan, a Romanian MEP from the EPP, told euractiv.com that the support for Western Balkans’ EU path is there but the countries need to make progress primarily in the judicial systems, fight against corruption and the rule of law.

Asked how this delay could affect pro-EU young people in the region he replied, “It’s a matter of time for this old establishment to lose”.

“It will not happen as fast as the young people hope, but the experience from my own country shows that the corrupt politicians never thought they would lose and now they are losing,” he said.

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