At the highly anticipated EU-Western Balkans Summit in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, European leaders agreed to stick to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that US President Donald J. Trump unilaterally pulled out of earlier this month and back the European Commission’s call to defend the bloc’s business interests with Iran and to speak as a single voice against threats by the White House that it would slap additional tariffs on steel and aluminium imports.
“On the Iran nuclear deal, we unanimously agreed that the EU will stay in the agreement as long as Iran remains fully committed to it. Additionally, the Commission was given a green light to be ready to act whenever European interests are affected,” said European Council President Donald Tusk from Sofia, who later slammed Trump for his decision to ignore the advice of his fellow Western allies and accused Iran of violating the agreement, though he failed to produce evidence to back the claim.
“Unpredictability is the last thing we need when we are friends…Brussels still has the highest expectations when it comes to Washington,” Tusk said while also reiterating that Europe needs “much less capricious assertiveness” from Trump administration.
Turning to the issue of Trump’s recent threats that he would include the EU on a list of those who would be subject to steep steel and aluminium tariffs, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker explained that the EU wants to be granted a permanent exemption from Trump’s proposed duties. If the White House is willing to grant the EU a special status that leaves it off the targeted entities list, the EU is then ready to start trade liberalisation talks with the US, Juncker said.
The main focus of the conference – the accession of the six Western Balkans nations of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Kosovo to the EU – received the backing of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who defended their right to join the European Union as countries’ relative size would not be a burden on the bloc’s current members.
Borissov comparing the six Western Balkan nations’ overall GDP to that of Slovakia, at €89.6 million, and their overall population to being less than that of Romania, at 17.7 million. Tusk, however, responded curtly to Borissov by reminding him that “their problems, per capita, exceed those of Germany and France put together”, and later went on to suggest to Borissov that EU members need to be “consistent and optimistic, but also cautious” when it comes to the question of enlargement.
Tusk later clarified that he had no intention of suggesting that the accession of Albania and FYROM/Macedonia is unrealistic by the target date of 2025, but that things should not be “fast-tracked” in the region for the sole purpose of completing the process within the suggested timeframe.