The strongest message the EU can send now is to start EU membership talks with Northern Macedonia and Albania before the end of this calendar year, said today Gabriel Escobar, US Deputy Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.
This, he said, "will dispel the frustration of the region's population with European policies and stop the malicious influence of Russia and China, which are working against EU enlargement in the Western Balkans."
At a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee today on the US engagement in the Western Balkans, Escobar said that both Northern Macedonia and Albania had completed the difficult task required of them and that the process should begin without delay.
- The postponement of the process after the Council of Ministers on March 22 recommended the start of the talks, spreads suspicion in the region and risks rejecting the hopes of the new generations who want a future in the EU, said Escobar.
He reiterated a joint statement by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joseph Borrell on October 14 that European integration was the only hope for the region.
- Peace, stability and prosperity through EU integration is our common goal and we work together towards that goal, including support for EU-sponsored dialogue, as the best way to normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo. Escobar says regarding recent license plate conflict in northern Kosovo
Escobar noted that the United States has provided $ 2.4 billion in aid to the region over the past ten years. For fiscal year 2021 alone, he said, we have set aside more than $ 120 million to help the region integrate into the EU and build resistance to adverse external influences.
Escobar said Moscow and Beijing were actively opposing the region's EU membership.
"They are misinforming and using vulnerable places to divert the Western Balkan countries from their democratically chosen path, while gaining an economic and political presence in Europe." said Escobar.
According to him, Russia uses the energy it supplies to Europe as weapons to blackmail politicians, stimulate corruption and halt development potential. -China is also expanding its influence in critical infrastructure and conditioning in the economy. We must not let them succeed, he said.
He pointed out that the Western Balkans is an economically dynamic region with the intention of joining the single European market.
"Working together, these countries will address political challenges, and step up change to raise living standards, stop brain drain and provide the basis for long-term prosperity." The United States is committed to ensuring this integration and to prioritizing sustainable investment in quality infrastructure and the transition from coal to clean energy.
Escobar praised initiatives such as the Open Regional Market and the Green Agenda, and noted that President Joe Biden's administration has redoubled its commitment to working with allies to help the Western Balkans realize its European path.