Accessibility links

Breaking News

Juncker Urges Path To EU Membership For Western Balkans, Warns Against Ethnic Strife

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (file photo)
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (file photo)

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker says the European Union should offer a clear path to membership to Western Balkan nations to help prevent them from returning to the ethnic strife that afflicted the region in the 1990s.

While making clear that EU enlargement will not be considered during the current commission mandate -- which ends in 2019 -- Juncker on January 12 said the next commission term -- which ends in 2024 -- will "certainly have to take a closer and targeted look at this."

"It is extremely important to ensure that the Western Balkans obtain and have confirmed once again a clear European perspective," he said, speaking at the official launch of the six-month Bulgarian EU presidency in the capital, Sofia.

"Otherwise, the danger exists in this very complicated region of Europe that we may be looking at possible events that could hark back to early nineties of the previous century," he added.

The countries of the Western Balkans, and specifically those of the former Yugoslavia, were rocked by violent ethnic and religious conflicts in the 1990s.

The Balkan wars, which erupted in 1991 and lasted for nearly a decade, killed an estimated 140,000 people and led to the breakup of Yugoslavia into the successor states Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Serbia and Montenegro.

Serbia and Montenegro broke up and became separate states in 2006. Kosovo declared itself independent from Serbia two years later, a move Belgrade has never recognized.

Slovenia and Croatia have become members of the EU, while the other states are in various stages of seeking to join the bloc.

Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, has said it wants to use its presidency to help promote the hopes of Western Balkan nations for eventual EU membership.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Rikard Jozwiak
  • 16x9 Image


    RFE/RL journalists report the news in 27 languages in 23 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established. We provide what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.