Foreign Minister Haavisto: EU enlargement is in Finland's interest

The work to integrate the Western Balkans in the heart of our continent into Europe will continue and will fit Finland.

It is good to remember that the European Union is expanding in the Brexit Sword. Accession negotiations with Montenegro and Serbia are under way. Northern Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina have applied for membership. Kosovo is on the road to the EU. Turkey is still a candidate country, although the accession negotiations are not progressing now.

Enlargement will therefore be towards the Western Balkans. The European Union, after the wars of Yugoslavia, offered every country in the region a prospect of EU membership. The policy is consistent: the Western Balkans is not an EU neighborhood but at the heart of Europe. The EU must keep its commitment, as the region is also interested in Russia and China.

The countries of the Western Balkans want to become members of the EU, and in many countries, the aspirations of membership combine the otherwise divided political field. However, EU membership does not come as a dinner for Manu - the conditions are strict and their fulfillment is closely monitored.

The road to membership is long, and the negotiations take years. Each country's progress is monitored separately. Enlargement must be implemented in a way that strengthens the whole of the Union.

Joining the EU requires a lot of work, but the work will benefit the citizens of the applicant countries even before they join. Compliance with membership conditions improves societies, whether it is raising environmental legislation to EU standards or creating a functioning market economy. Enlargement policy gives the EU a unique leverage effect, and enlargement will strengthen the EU as a global actor.

In the future, the candidate countries must pay more attention to the rule of law. Every Western Balkan country has much to improve. Stepping up the fight against corruption and organized crime and improving freedom of expression are at the top of the list. Responsibility lies primarily with the political leaders of the applicant countries. The EU rightly emphasizes the reforms of the rule of law sector in meeting the conditions for membership. For the sake of credibility, the EU must also take care of the rule of law within the Union.

There is enough history in the Western Balkans, and it is often overcrowded. The look must be turned into the future. Here, young people are key. When I traveled by train in the Western Balkans last summer, I met a lot of young people with a strong European identity and a desire to be involved in developing the European Union. Also, in view of the future of these young people, the role of the EU in the Western Balkans would be strengthened and the outlook for EU membership would remain. At the same time, there is a need to invest in student exchanges and links between civil societies.

Exiting from the past also involves reconciliation. Even though the burden of history weighs, even difficult disputes can be solved. The agreement reached between Greece and northern Macedonia on the naming struggle between countries is an indication of this. Next, the eyes will turn to Serbia and Kosovo, which should finally normalize their relationship.

Turkey's accession negotiations have been in deep trouble in recent years. The country's rule of law development and the reforms related to the EU's convergence have not progressed. Some areas have been very worryingly backward. It will not be possible to continue the accession negotiations with Turkey unless a new approach is seen in the reform policy.

Finland has experience in developing relations between the EU and Turkey. The EU must continue its dialogue and cooperation with Turkey. There must also be difficult and sensitive topics involved in the discussion. Migration cooperation with Turkey is important, but the EU and Turkey also need a new and broader strategic approach in their cooperation.

The Finnish EU Presidency next week will also employ issues related to enlargement. Montenegro's and Serbia's accession negotiations continue. EU member states decide whether to open accession negotiations with northern Macedonia and Albania. Finland supports these steps.

The work to integrate the Western Balkans into Europe will continue, and it suits us. In recent decades, Finns have been active in the work of peace and stability in the Western Balkans - as mediators of peace, peacekeepers and numerous international missions. A stable and prosperous Western Balkans is an asset for Finland. 

The article was originally published as a Guest Pen by Helsingin Sanomat



© Copyright 2010-16 Invest in EU All rights reserved.