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AP Interview: Slovenia hails EU on Brexit, not enlargement

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Slovenia's foreign minister said Tuesday the European Union showed unity during the Brexit negotiations, but failed in the Balkans when it couldn't agree to open accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania.

Miro Cerar said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday "there are some positive effects on the part of the European Union regarding Brexit because we in a way upheld our unity during this process. We showed that we are able to stand behind a small state, Ireland, to protect its interests."

He said that his tiny Alpine state doesn't want a no-deal Brexit. "There will be some consequences also for Slovenia, but the impact of hard Brexit would be definitely much stronger than if we reach and adopt the agreement, the deal which we work on," Cerar said.

Cerar warned that EU's weekend decision not to open membership negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania sends a negative signal to the volatile Western Balkans where Russia is trying to regain its political influence after the fall of communism.

"I believe that this postponement or no decision was indeed a historic mistake," Cerar said. "We actually let them down. We didn't keep our promise and this is very bad for both sides." French President Emmanuel Macron has refused to allow any new countries into the 28-nation bloc until its enlargement procedures have been reformed, while the Netherlands opposes Albania's candidacy and disputes the commission's assessment.

The decision was seen as a setback for the region where the prospect for EU membership has been a strong source of encouragement for reform and reconciliation after the war that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

"We have lost our credibility now and the consequences might be very dire," said Cerar, whose country was one of six Yugoslav republics before the federation broke apart in the bloody civil war. "We know that the Western Balkan region is not stable. There are different interests in that region, which are, of course, coming from very strong countries."

"So the European Union should do its best to embrace the region, to continue with the enlargement process and to start the negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania as soon as possible," he said. Slovenia joined the EU in 2004.

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