German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that no one should hinder Balkan process of integration into the European Union (EU).
Merkel expressing her views on the future of the EU at a press conference in the Albanian capital of Tirana, said “It is in our interest that Western Balkan countries to have EU integration perspective and to fulfil it.”
Merkel is also scheduled to visit Bosnia and Serbia in a two-day tour around the Balkan states, following economic turmoil and uncertainty over the EU and eurozone member debt-ridden Greece.
All three countries are ambitious to join the European Union, even though official EU statements have ceased enlargement of the block till at least 2020.
Merkel said that all countries applying must oblige to and meet EU criterias and no-one would stand in their way once requirements have been fulfilled.
Standing alongside the German chancellor, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama expressed his determination to join the club.
“Europe needs the Balkans as much as the Balkans needs Europe,” he said.
Rama said a failure of Albania and other Western Balkan states’ integration into the EU will be a ‘’tragedy’’ and that the EU will be safe haven for the countries bringing stability into the region which have dragged into conflict after the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s.
Germany organised a summit for Western Balkan states last August to improve relations between the EU and the region. The conference was seen as an attempt to reduce Russian influence in the region.
Prime ministers from six Eastern Europe countries including Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania gathered for the summit.
All of the leaders said that their countries will work towards EU membership and that in return the EU should continue providing them with funds.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said “We need some money from the EU funds, and then you will see the smiles on our faces.
"Finally we agreed on two important issues - a common goal for all of us, and that is the European path, and about the full membership in the EU. It cannot be expected tomorrow, there are plenty of things to do before it happens.”
“We are fed up with seminars. If we can't get EU's help and support, we must try and do as much as we can alone together," Vucic added.
Albanian Prime Mİnister Edi Rama stressed the same issue saying the Balkan leaders needed progress instead of “more group photos.”
"We do not want to allow patience fatigue [over EU entry] to become the enemy. We have to ... see some concrete results," Rama added.
“Now is the time for a clear commitment from the European Union to help develop the Balkans as a region jointly like never before."
Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said “The European Union could, and I believe in the future can, be more focused and can help to resolve on those issues [accession procedures], because postponing and postponing is not a solution. It’s just creating problems; it’s creating new issues; it’s creating uncertainties; and it is a real damage for us [Macedonia] and for the region too.”
The forum moderator and former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer who participated in the summit said all the leaders of Balkan region made reasonable demands.
“If you want to have regional cooperation you need connectivity, streets, railways. It is important that this is understood by Brussels," Fischer said.
A follow up summit is scheduled in Austria in August to collaborate EU missions in the development infrastructure and garner western investment into the Balkan region.
Macedonia, Serbia and Albania are official candidates. Macedonia has been in political turmoil lately over wiretap allegations surrounding Prime Minister Gruevski, coup allegations against the country’s opposition leader and alleged attacks by ethnic Albanians at the Kumanovo border.
The EU path for Serbia has been turbulent due to its conflict with Kosovo. Although Serbian PM shook hands with Kosovo Prime Mİnister Isa Mustafa in the Vienna Economic Forum, Vucic stated that Serbia does not yet recognise Kosovo’s sovereignty.
German Ambassador in Belgrade, Heinz Wilhelm, said the EU membership process of Serbia is dependent on its official recognition of Kosovo.
Kosovo separated from Serbia following the turmoil caused during the fall of former Yugoslavia and became independent in 2008. Since then, Serbia has officially refused to recognise Kosovo.
Slovenia and Croatia are the only two EU member countries in the Balkan region. Montenegro has been actively negotiating its membership process with the EU.