Bulgarian foreign minister Ekaterina Zaharieva unveiled on Wednesday (18 April) the state of play in preparation of the 17 May Western Balkans Summit in Sofia. A complicated choreography is in preparation, to accommodate the EU members who don’t recognise Kosovo.
Zaharieva answered questions from MPs regarding the preparation of the Western Balkans summit, which is the biggest highlight of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU. As MPs reported, she said that not all invited will attend at the highest level (Prime Minister of President, according to each country’s constitutional prerogatives).
The reason, as it became clear since the 23 March summit, is the participation of Kosovo.
Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008, is not recognised by five EU member states: Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia and Romania. The main reason is that these countries fear separatism in their own territory and disapprove of the way Kosovo seceded from Serbia.
In Spain, the sensitivities are even more pronounced in the context of the fresh push for independence in Catalonia.
Zaharieva also disclosed that the summit will take place under two formats. On 16 May a dinner will be held with the participation only of the 28 member states and the leaders of the EU institutions. The topic however will not be the Western Balkans, but the EU’s Digital agenda.
On the next day there will be a meeting at 28+6 (the six Western Balkan countries: Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo). The host of the meeting is the Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov, but the talks will be chaired by Council President Donald Tusk, together with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
It is not certain which EU countries will be represented at lower level, with the exception of Spain, whose Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on 23 March he will be attending only the dinner on 16 May.
Regarding the final declaration, Zaharieva made it clear that some countries didn’t want to subscribe to a text together with the president of Kosovo Hashim Thaci. She said that her preference would be that the final declaration would be on behalf of the EU28 only.
However, the website ClubZ writes that Western Balkans countries dislike both the draft final document, which only focuses on connectivity and infrastructure, and also would like the declaration to be on behalf of the 28+6.
Asked about Serbia’s participation, Zaharieva said that Belgrade never said that it would not participate. Ironically, Serbia and Kosovo leaders find it much easier to meet and shake hands, compared to some EU leaders and the representatives of Pristina.