The President of the European Council has expressedly acknowledged Greece’s pivotal role in the region, following the successful conclusion of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) summit, which Greece chaired in Thessaloniki for two days beginning on June 10th.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis chaired the meeting, as the country holds the rotating one-year presidency ending June 30th.
The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, who was attending as a guest observer, thanked Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Twitter for his “active chairmanship of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) summit.”
“You play a pivotal role in promoting cooperation in this key region for European peace and stability,” he added.
Western Balkans’ EU integration target
In this year’s SEECP meeting, PM Mitsotakis proposed that the year 2033 be the deadline for the accession of all Western Balkan countries in the EU.
“It is an ambitious target for the Western Balkans, but I think it could be realistic if the idea of enlargement returns as a core value of the European Union,” he stated.
According to the Greek Prime Minister, the integration of the entire SE European region, especially the Western Balkans, into the European Union, is a key priority, and he referred to the “nearly 20 years since the path opened in Thessaloniki again during the Greek chairmanship in 2003.”
He said: “The time has come to go ahead with decisive steps to incorporating the Western Balkans in the European family, recognizing obviously that they must promote significant steps to bring them in line with European directives [, as] only then will their accession be substantial, after all.”
Berlin Process revival gains momentum during Greece summit
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, currently on a two day tour of the Western Balkans, was also present at the SEECP dinner in Thessaloniki on Friday evening.
“I want to promote the EU accession process locally and support regional exchange (#BerlinProcess). It will also be about our joint response to the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine,” he wrote about his Western Balkans tour on the official Chancellery’s account on Twitter.
As analysts have previously explained, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a new sense of urgency in bringing the so-called WB6 (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia) closer to the EU, whether through full membership or an alternative community.
In early May, Chancellor Scholz had confirmed that Germany aims to revive the “Berlin process,” a diplomatic initiative started in 2014 for the future enlargement of the 27-member European Union.
Greece, as a long-time EU and NATO member, can prove an important regional ally to this direction, and EU officials seem to acknowledge this.
Thessaloniki Summit Declaration
The SEECP is a 12-country regional non-institutionalized process, coordinated by the presiding country. It was founded at the initiative of Greece and Bulgaria in 1996 and held its first meeting on Crete in 1997.
In their Joint SEECP Thessaloniki Summit Declaration, the participating countries agreed to not only enhance the European perspective of the region and prioritize energy security but also to intensify cooperation in addressing security issues, increase synergies and connectivity towards economic growth, and continue addressing the COVID-19 repercussions, as well as those of climate change through green initiatives.
The next chairs of SEECP are Podgorica, Montenegro (2022-2023), assuming duties on July 1, and Skopje, Republic of North Macedonia (2023-2024).