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EU leaders to hold summit with Western Balkan countries to discuss bloc membership

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EU leaders to hold summit with Western Balkan countries to discuss bloc membership

Leaders of the European Union and the Western Balkans attend a show after a group photo at the EU-Western Balkans summit, in Tirana, Albania, Tuesday, December 6, 2022. (AP)

Leaders of the European Union and the Western Balkans will hold a summit in the Albanian capital on Monday to discuss the path forward towards the region’s six countries joining the bloc.

The main topics discussed during the annual negotiations – called the Berlin Process – are the integration of the Western Balkans into a single market and support for their green and digital transformation. The countries in the region are Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.

Senior EU officials attending the Tirana summit are European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel. They will be joined by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The six Western Balkan countries are at different stages of integration into the bloc. Serbia and Montenegro were the first Western Balkan countries to launch accession negotiations a few years ago, followed by Albania and Macedonia last year, while Bosnia and Kosovo have only began the first stage of the integration process.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has put the integration of the Western Balkans into the EU at the top of the agenda for the 27-nation bloc. The EU is trying to restart the entire enlargement process, which has been stalled since 2013, when the last country to become a member was Croatia.

The EU had required the Western Balkans to reform their economy and political institutions before joining the bloc.

Von der Leyen mentioned a new growth plan for the Western Balkan countries that she will make public at the summit: opening new trade routes in seven specific areas of the EU common market for the Balkan countries, which must implement rapid reforms which, in turn, are accompanied by investments.

Von der Leyen, speaking at a news conference on Sunday after his meeting with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, gave no further details.

A bitter conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008, remains a big concern for the EU ahead of the summit. A recent shootout between masked Serbian gunmen and Kosovo police, which left four people dead and raised tensions in the region, appears to have suspended EU-facilitated dialogue to normalize their ties.

EU officials have called on Balkan countries to overcome regional conflicts and stand united as Russia wages war in Ukraine.

The summit, which is being held for the first time in a non-EU country, is taking place at a pharaonic monument, known as the Pyramid. It was built in 1988 as a posthumous museum for Albania’s communist-era strongman Enver Hoxha. (PA)

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