The German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) paper quotes a politician close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, stating that it would be more realistic for Balkan countries to ask for membership in the European Economic Area, rather than the European Union. The paper has raised the issue of closer European economic cooperation with the Balkans but with less political ties, and recently Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski said that he was offered EEA membership, but refused, as the country demands full EU membership with all the political privileges that come with it. Pendarovski’s statement caused outrage as the EEA brings many of the economic benefits of EU membership, but without the humiliating concessions that were required by Greece and now Bulgaria.

FAZ reports that while the idea of adding the Balkans to the EU may sustain for a while, nobody currently seems to believe in it. The paper cites the difficulties the EU has making decisions with the current 27 members, let alone the projected 33 after the whole of the Balkans is introduced. And other considerations include possible Russian influence in the EU, once Serbia is made a full member.

The paper quotes a leading member of the European Parliament Elmar Brok from the German ruling CDU party who says that even if Balkan candidate countries complete the accession talks, ratification of their membership in the Parliaments of all current member states seems very unlikely. He expects that EU member states will keep coming up with reasons why to postpone the ratification. On the other hand, Brok warns, this would disappoint the Balkan countries and could open the door to more Russian, Turkish, Arabic or Chinese influence. That is why he supports swapping EU membership with membership in the EEA, which allows freedom of movement and some level of EU investment in the Balkans, but without the political baggage.