Commissioner backs EU enlargement in Balkans


BRUSSELS – The European Union should not freeze plans to admit western Balkan countries as members, the union’s enlargement chief said yesterday, responding to German doubts about the pace of expansion.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that the EU needed a “consolidation phase” before it added new members.

Asked about the statement, EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said prospects to join the Union helped to anchor political stability and economic reform in the western Balkans, a region torn by wars in the 1990s. “We cannot take any sabbatical from our invaluable work for stability and . . . progress in the western Balkans, which is essentially provided by a European perspective,” Mr Rehn told a news conference.

“This is . . . an anchor of stability in southeastern Europe. We should not shake this anchor.”

Mr Rehn said the economic crisis and efforts to ratify the Lisbon Treaty should not be a distraction from the enlargement efforts. “The EU is able to handle several things at the same time,” he said.

Mr Rehn spoke after a meeting with foreign ministers from Slovenia and Croatia, which are locked in a border row that is blocking Zagreb’s EU entry talks.

Croatia hopes to wrap up EU accession talks this year and join the Union in the next few years, but the goal is threatened by EU member Slovenia’s veto on further progress of the talks. Mr Rehn said he presented a compromise to the countries, which now needed to be studied. “It is still work in progress. I don’t want to go into details regarding a possible agreement,” he said. – (Reuters)