Western Balkans countries “belong in the European Union”, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed on Wednesday, without mentioning when the six counties might become member states.
Von der Leyen made the comment on Twitter following a EU-Western Balkans summit, held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a declaration released after the summit, the 27 leaders of the EU member states reiterated their “strong solidarity” with Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia “in the context of the coronavirus”.
They emphasised that the “EU has mobilised very swiftly a package of over €3.3 billion to the benefit of the Western Balkans” to help the six countries in their fight against the COVID-19 pandemic” and stressed that “this support and cooperation goes far beyond what any other partner has provided to the region deserves public acknowledgement.”
The money includes immediate support to the health sector through the delivery of essential supplies as well as support for the social and economic recovery including a €1.7 billion package of assistance from the European investment Bank.
But they also said that the EU is ready to provide more assistance.
“The EU is determined to further intensify its engagement at all levels to support the region’s political, economic and social transformation”.
“Increased EU assistance will be linked to tangible progress in the rule of law and in socio-economic reforms, as well as on the Western Balkans partner’s adherence to EU values, rules and standards,” the declaration adds.
France, Denmark and the Netherlands blocked accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia in October 2019, demanding a reversible enlargement process with a stronger focus on the rule of law.
Their opposition was described as ‘a grave historic error’ by then-Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Croatia, which currently holds the EU’s rotating six-month presidency, has been urged by the six Western Balkans countries to put EU enlargement at the top of the bloc’s agenda.
Accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia were green-lighted by the EU Council in March.
Albania’s Foreign Minister Gent Cakaj welcomed von der Leyen’s statement as “encouraging”.
“Albania will continue delivering on European agenda to further advance in the accession process! Grateful for EU’s support and commitment,” he added on Twitter.