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News 24 Jun 16

Balkans Shaken as UK Chooses EU Exit

Initial reactions from the Balkan region to the negative vote on the EU in Britain are gloomy - but concerns about the effects of a 'Brexit' on Southeastern Europe's economies are less dramatic. 

Sofia, Bucharest, Zagreb, Skopje, Belgrade, Pristina, Tirana, Sarajevo, Podgorica
Photo: Sean O'Dowd/Flickr

Balkan officials voiced concerns on Friday about the uncertain future of the EU following Britian’s vote to leave the EU, while affirming their commitment to European integration.

Bulgarian leaders were vocal in their disappointment with UK’s decision to quit the European Union, with Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and President Rosen Plevneliev calling it “a bad day for Europe”.

Plevneliev said on Friday that he was “deeply sorry about this result” and “deeply concerned that today, nationalists and populists are celebrating on the streets of Europe”.

Borissov said the EU has to show it can go on without the UK, and declared himself against “any negotiations for special status [with the UK ] … because they will break the union apart”.

Bulgaria's Foreign Minister, Daniel Mitov, warned against “a domino effect” and stressed the need for deeper integration of the countries within the EU.

Romanian officials also expressed regret about the vote in the UK, adding that Romania remains attached to the European project.

”Romania’s economy as well as national currency will not be negatively influenced by the results of the referendum in the UK,” President Klaus Iohannis said on Friday.

“It is very important for Romanians - including those living and working in the UK - to understand that we must keep calm and should not worry,” Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos said. 

Officials in Croatia, the EU’s newest member state, also voiced concern about the exit vote.

Foreign Minister Miro Kovac called the UK vote “a heavy blow to the unity of the European Union”.

He added that EU member states needed to start a public debate on how the EU can be organized differently and brought “closer to citizens”.

He did not expect immediate economic consequences for Croatia from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, as there are no major economic ties between the two countries.

Vesna Pusic, a Croatian MP and candidate for UN Secretary-General, said fear had prevailed over reason in the British referendum.

She told regional N1 channel that the referendum outcome was “not just an extremely bad decision for Britain, but also very dangerous for Europe”, possibly meaning “the beginning of the destruction of the European idea”.

There is also confusion in the Balkan states, which are not yet part of the EU, but are hoping to join the bloc in future.

"The referendum result in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union is not good news,” Kosovo’s European Integration Minister, Bekim Collaku, wrote on Facebook.

“For us, [Kosovo] which has a powerful aspiration for EU membership, it is painful that one of the member countries, one of the first to recognize our independence and among the most supportive in our European path, will leave the EU," he added.

Ismet Ramadani, a former Macedonian MP and now head of the Euro-Atlantic Council of Macedonia, told BIRN that the UK referendum outcome will certainly have a negative effect on Macedonian politics, boosting voices that are propagating Euro-scepticism and anti-EU sentiments.

Albania's former Prime Minister, Pandeli Majko, now an MP, wrote on Facebook: “UK votes to exit the EU. Inside or out of the union, London remains a precious friend for Albanians”.

The former head of Albanian Parliament, Jozefina Topalli, also on Facebook, wrote: “The UK bids adieu. The disintegration of Europe has started.”

A former Montenegrin Foreign Minister, Miodrag Vlahovic, told BIRN that "for us, natives" from the Balkans, this new era will be unpleasant.

"We should now act wisely, with a right balance between caution and determination," he said. “A gloomy situation, indeed."

Serbian officials used the situation to confirm their commitment to European integration. "We will continue on our EU path since we obtained the trust of our citizens for this in the last elections in April," Prime Minister-designate Aleksandar Vucic said.

Foreign minister Ivica Dacic said Serbia will take all necessary measures to maintain economical and financial stability against disturbance on international financial markets.

In Bosnia, Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic said Britain remained a key friend of Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite the result of the referendum. Zvizdic called the decision of the UK citizens surprising.

 “We expected the decision of British citizens to be different, but we respect the democratic will expressed by the referendum,” he said, adding that the UK's decision “will not consistently delay the EU integration process of Bosnia.”


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