Western Balkan nations press EU aspirations at Poland summit
WARSAW, Poland -- Government ministers from some European Union nations sought Thursday to reassure their partners in the Western Balkans during a meeting in Poland that their aspirations to join the EU have full backing in the club, despite symptoms of a loss of momentum.
German Minister of State for Europe, Michael Roth, said Berlin stands firmly by the accession process of all Western Balkans nations "because for us the Western Balkans is not the backyard of the European Union, but the inner courtyard. We are all responsible for ensuring that the prospect of EU accession remains concrete."
Speaking in the Polish city of Poznan, which is hosting the meeting, Roth urged much more effort in that direction and the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania.
Foreign, interior and economy ministers from membership candidates Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania, as well as potential candidates Bosnia and Kosovo, are seeking such reassurance after some European leaders raised doubts about the EU's openness to expanding.
French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated Monday that he thinks the EU has internal work to do that takes priority over taking in new members. He said he would "refuse any kind of enlargement before a deep reform of our institutional functioning."
Speaking in Poland Thursday, Serbia's Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic reacted to Macron's comments by questioning the purpose of holding such meetings "especially when some of the top European leaders are saying there's no chance of any enlargement."
Roth said Thursday that "only a concrete perspective that is credible and that motivates the people locally, that involves civil society, will ultimately make the necessary reforms possible" and will pave the accession road.
He said the process will stimulate development in various walks of life in the region, but the above all "it is also about regional cooperation and reconciliation," like in the case of difficult dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, whose relations are marked by bloodshed.
"There is still a great deal to be done," Roth said,
Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Ekaterina Sachariewa pointed to huge improvement in the strained relations her EU member country achieved with North Macedonia thanks to the accession efforts. That should serve as an inspiration and an example for overcoming other problems among Western Balkan nations.
Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said that including Western Balkans nations in the EU would increase regional stability and development and spread the EU's values to more of Europe.
He pledged 500,000 euros from Poland for a fund developing investment in the region.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Polish President Andrzej Duda and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki plan to join the gathering Friday.
Poland is hosting the summit in Poznan because it currently presides over the so-called Berlin Process that brings the Western Balkan nations together with EU member states. Initiated by Germany, the process is meant to promote EU membership for the Western Balkans although there is no set time frame.
Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.