TIRANA, Albania — Albania’s prime minister said on Monday that a European Union summit in his country’s capital this week demonstrates the EU’s heightened geostrategic interests in the Western Balkan region during Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama is expected to host the day-long meeting on Tuesday which aims to relaunch the EU enlargement process.
“The timing is fantastic. No one could imagine this until two years ago, and now it is happening,” Rama said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Rama has previously criticized the EU for dragging its feet in admitting new member countries. The six countries that are the subject of the summit – Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – have received assurances for years but have seen their moves towards membership stagnate.
The war in Ukraine has served as a reminder of the region’s vulnerability and given the EU an incentive to bring Western Balkan nations into the democratic fold of Europe, according to Rama. He said the bloc particularly needed to work “closely with Serbia”, which has not signed on to EU wartime sanctions against Russia.
“The common voice of the Western Balkans (…) has helped push more EU leaders” to move countries forward on the road to membership because “you need the Balkans, the Western Balkans as much as the Western Balkans need the EU,” Rama said.
The Prime Minister called Tuesday’s meeting “the most important event in the history of international relations (of Albania)”, noting that the former communist country was until 1990 “completely cut off from the world and from Europe”.
The summit will bring “a lot to the Western Balkans, to our country, a lot of positive energy, a lot of hope, a lot of new paths, new paths, which will define themselves in the next steps”, Rama said, calling the decision of the EU to organize the summit outside its territory is a “good omen for the future”.
With the exception of Kosovo, which only declared independence from Serbia in 2008, the Western Balkan countries were first identified as potential EU candidates in 2003. Croatia, which is also part of the region, joined the bloc in 2013 and remains its newest member as the EU has not admitted any others since.
The bloc agreed to launch full membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia in July, and held those talks with Serbia and Montenegro for a few years. The EU executive board recommended Bosnia as a candidate member in October. Kosovo’s government said it plans to submit an application for candidacy consideration this month.
Accession negotiations, which align the policies, administration and economies of candidate countries with those of the bloc, can themselves take years, and the merit-based process is individual for each country.
Rama maintained that relations between the Western Balkan countries, mainly those that made up the former Yugoslavia, had never been better, although he acknowledged that Serbia’s refusal to recognize Kosovo’s independence “stay the elephant in the room”.
“But we are on this path, and we will continue to push for reconciliation, normalization, and we will also continue to work closely with Serbia,” he said.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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