Spindelegger deplores ‘EU enlargement fatigue’

Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger has called for an end to “EU enlargement fatigue”.”The economic crisis should not be an excuse for enlargement fatigue,” he said today (Weds), adding that closer relations between states in the western Balkans and the European Union were in “Austria’s own interest.”He called on the European Union to keep enlargement plans on track despite its current problems. “We must be prepared to do what we have promised to do,” he added.The minister said the prospect of accession to the European Union would promote economic reform, prosperity and peace in the Balkans and noted the importance of such countries as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia as markets for Austrian investment and exports.Austria and Greece have been supporting further EU enlargement for months. Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas said today in Vienna that “we must fight enlargement fatigue,” which posed a threat to reform efforts in the Balkans, resulting from EU institutional questions and the economic crisis.He called for elaboration of a road map specifying the stages on western Balkan countries’ way to EU accession.Michael Leigh, the head of the European Commission’s Enlargement Directorate, said the tempo of such countries’ qualification for EU accession depended on their reform efforts and urged political leaders to explain the accession process to their people.All western Balkan states want to accede to the European Union. Croatia may conclude accession negotiations this year. Macedonia has formal candidate status, and Montenegro, Albania and Serbia have applied for it.Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, the independence of which has not been recognised by many states, are less far along in their approach to the European Union.In regard to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Spindelegger said that the “incompetence” of some of its politicians who thought and acted in “ethnic terms” posed the risk that the country would fail to qualify for EU accession.He added that no one expected Serbia to recognise the independence of its former province Kosovo any time soon but the country should cooperate in the solution of basic questions like border protection.Droutsas claimed that increasing rapprochement in the western Balkans would lead to the solution of “open conflicts” that had no place in “the new Europe.”Greece has blocked Macedonia’s accession negotiations because of a dispute over the country’s name and refused to recognise Kosovo’s independence.