It had been hoped that EU leaders would agree next month that enough progress has been made in the divorce talks to move on to post-Brexit trade relations, but recent comments by Bulgarian PM Bojko Borissov and his Italian counterpart Paolo Gentiloni suggest the UK Government may have to wait.
Speaking in Rome after a meeting, Mr Borissov said: “Regarding Brexit, the negotiation is arduous. I’m not optimistic.
“I do not know how it is going to end, and that is why we are proposing the Balkans as an alternative.
“We have a common desire and will to bring this discussion forward for the balance of EU countries.“
Mr Borissov has admitted concerns about the EU’s future after Brexit and believes some of the Western Balkan countries would be a welcome addition to the bloc.
He said: “We have introduced the theme of the Western Balkans in Trieste and made a commitment that at the forthcoming EU summit on 17 May, on the Western Balkans, we should make the most of the other six states in the region to make a step forward in this direction, there is still much to do.”
Meanwhile, Mr Gentiloni also conceded Brexit negotiations have been “difficult” as he urged his EU allies to find a way to break the deadlock without creating tensions.
He said: “There is the topic of Brexit that we will address during the European Council in December, and then throughout 2018.
“A difficult negotiation in which the EU has to confirm its unity without any polemical approach towards the British decision, but always defending our principles.”
The news comes after a German government spokesman told UK officials that “time is very pressing” in a bid to break the ongoing Brexit talks deadlock.
Member states are due to decide whether or not “sufficient progress” has been made on the core separation issues at a summit next month, with the divorce bill, the Irish border and citizens’ rights still yet to be agreed on.
Once a deal has been made, the two sides can begin to discuss the issue of post-Brexit trade.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said: “Further progress is required, time is very pressing.
“It is understandable that the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier stresses how urgent it is for Britain to act promptly, to make proposals.”