Published: Fri, May 18, 2018
People | By Leon Thompson

European Union reaches out to the Balkans

European Union reaches out to the Balkans

"I am convinced that the EU is the only partner that cares genuinely about the stability of the entire region and a prosperous future for its peoples", said Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council.

"The Western Balkans are an integral part of Europe and they belong to our community", he said.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is staying away from the summit in protest because of his country's opposition to Kosovo's independence.

During the "family photoshoot", Kosovo's Hashim Taci and Serbia's Alexander Vucic were seen close to each other, while they later shook hands when they signed a memorandum of understanding with the European Union under the approving gaze of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

Leaders of the European Union and its member states, in consultation with Western Balkans partners, adopted a 17-point declaration in Sofia on Tuesday.

"The EU welcomes the shared commitment of the Western Balkans partners to European values and principles, and to the vision of a strong, stable and united Europe, underpinned by our historic, cultural and geographic ties and by our mutual political, security and economic interests", the declaration said.

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Croatia has offered to hold a new summit dedicated to the Western Balkans during its European Union presidency in 2020.

After suspending any enlargement four years ago, the European Commission recently unveiled a new strategy for the region which aims to give membership to some states by 2025 - the frontrunners to join are Montenegro and Serbia.

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A European diplomatic source said that during the talks, objections to Balkan enlargement had come on two grounds: the need for the would-be members to reform and also the fractious state of the EU itself.

"It is the way to use more effectively the time between now and tomorrow".

But he argued that there was "no plan B" for the six countries than the path towards the EU.

"We didn't pretend that everything is clear and simple", Tusk said, adding that "it's not our intention to spoil this process by suggesting something unrealistic like fast-track" European Union membership. At a meeting, the two discussed European countries' support for regional co-operation, security cooperation and counter-terrorism, the media reported.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country will take over the EU's rotating presidency in July, stressed the importance of keeping the door open.

"If there is no European perspective in the Balkans, the influence of Turkey will increase and that will cause many problems".

"We want to demonstrate that we care about socioeconomic development in the region here and now".

The EU is also wary of admitting new members before they settle their differences, particularly in a region still bedevilled by the aftermath of the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Even the Macedonian and Greek leaders, Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras, who made the most substantive breakthrough of the day, were careful to lay out the road of domestic negotiations about the "name" compromise that lies ahead, instead of focusing on the achievement itself.

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