Enlargement back on EU's agenda at Western Balkans summit

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The war in Ukraine has put the European Union's expansion at the top of the agenda as officials from the Western Balkans and EU leaders gather Tuesday for a summit intended to reinvigorate the whole enlargement process.

The EU's executive commission has repeatedly promised Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia that they have futures within the bloc. But the progress of the six nations toward getting there stalled in recent years.

The EU last admitted a new member – Croatia, which is also part of the Balkans – in 2013. Before that, Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007. With the withdrawal of the United Kingdom in 2021, the EU now has 27 member nations. EU leaders agreed in June to make Moldova and Ukraine candidates for membership and said Georgia would be eligible for candidacy once the country met some goals defined by the European Commission.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted last week that supporting Moldova, Georgia and Bosnia was crucial in the context of the war. Stoltenberg noted that Bosnia, where Russian interference and ethnic tensions long have created political instability, is "important for stability in the whole of the Western Balkans."

Discussions at Tuesday's meeting in Albania's capital, Tirana, are also expected to focus on the negative effects for energy and food security from Russia's war in Ukraine. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen already announced financial support to help countries in the Western Balkans cope with shortages and higher prices.

During his trip to Belgrade, Varhelyi made clear to Vucic that he would need to align Serbia's foreigh policies with those of EU if the country hopes to join the bloc at some point. Vucic claims he wants to take Serbia into the European Union but has cultivated ties with Russia.


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