Western Balkan heads of state press for swift approval of their European Union membership bids

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — The heads of state of six Western Balkan countries that are seeking to join the European Union met in North Macedonia on Monday and urged the bloc to accelerate its enlargement process, saying that would contribute to regional stability.

A joint declaration from the presidents of Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania said both the EU and the Western Balkans "should be ready for enlargement, as soon as possible, but not later than 2030.”

The declaration stressed the need for the six countries to join the EU "in view of the continued Russian aggression against Ukraine and its spillover effect” in the region.

The meeting in Skopje was attended by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Montenegro's Jakov Milatovic, Kosovo's Vjosa Osmani, Albania's Bajram Begaj, North Macedonia's Stevo Pendarovski, and Zeljko Komsic, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Also present were Zoran Milanovic and Natasa Pirc Musar, presidents of Croatia and Slovenia respectively, two Western Balkan countries that have already joined the bloc.

Serbia and Montenegro were the first of the six countries to launch EU membership negotiations, followed by Albania and Macedonia last year. Bosnia and Kosovo have only begun the first step of the integration process.

The region was riven by wars in the 1990s, and ethnic tensions remain high — particularly between Serbia and Kosovo, a breakaway former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008.

Croatia's Milanovic told a press conference after the meetings that dialogue between the countries in the region is valuable.

“The atmosphere at today’s meeting was better than at previous gatherings and this is an encouraging sign,” Milanovic said.