Balkan countries deeply frustrated about the deadlock in their bids to join the EU, welcome EU's decision to give Ukraine the status but warns Ukrainian people of illusions
Balkan leaders have lashed out at the European Union over their stalled bids to join, as the EU's decision to make Ukraine a candidate nation highlighted the region's failure to make progress.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama hailed Kiev potentially joining his country as a candidate for European Union membership but warned against any unreasonable hopes for a speedy process.
"North Macedonia is a candidate for 17 years if I have not lost count, Albania since eight, so welcome to Ukraine," Rama said at an EU summit with western Balkan countries.
"It's a good thing to give Ukraine the status. But I hope that Ukrainian people will not make many illusions."
EU leaders granted candidate status Thursday to Ukraine and neighbouring Moldova in a strong show of support against Russia's offensive.
Ukraine applied to become an EU candidate in a bid to cement its place in Europe just days after Moscow launched its offensive in February.
Balkan countries are frustrated about the deadlock in their bids to join the EU, with Bulgaria blocking the start of negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia over a dispute with the latter.
"It's a disgrace that a NATO country, Bulgaria, kidnaps two other NATO countries, namely Albania and North Macedonia, in the midst of hot war in Europe's backyard with 26 other countries sitting still in a scary show of impotence," Albania's Rama said.
Criticism is credible
"The states and citizens of the Western Balkans have been waiting for almost 20 years for the possibility of becoming members of the European Union," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.
"In my view, it is of the utmost importance that this promise becomes credible."
EU chief Charles Michel said there was "a will to re-energise" the accession process for the Balkan countries.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the Bulgarian blockage was "really not fair" but insisted the region needs to push on by itself regardless.
"I just hope that all of us will be able to overcome these difficulties," he said.
"We cannot cry out because even if anyone will hear them or will hear us it will change nothing. We need to work. We need to carry on changing ourselves."
Brussels is worried that the lack of progress for the Balkans could push the region closer to Russia and China.
Some members of the bloc have been trying to use the push for candidate status for Ukraine and its neighbour Moldova to breathe new impetus into getting the Balkans on board.
But there has been annoyance with Serbia that it has failed to align with EU sanctions against its ally Russia over the offensive in Ukraine.