European Union lauds commitment of Western Balkans to bloc's values

Belgrade and Zemun

"Western Balkans is already the region that gets the highest per capita investment of all EBRD regions", EBRD President Suma Chakrabarti told Reuters in Sofia, where he will be attending an EU-Western Balkans summit on Friday. "So these countries have to do their homework".

The Western Balkans region includes Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, as well as the self-proclaimed republic of Kosovo.

Divisions have surfaced over the challenge of migration and with Britain set to leave next year, a group of countries led by France say the European Union must itself be reformed before new countries can come aboard.

Assuring the states of the former Yugoslavia that a path to membership was still open, the European Union leaders said the pro-Western alignment was a priority.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: 'We remain of the view that the European Union accession process is important to delivering security, stability and prosperity in the Western Balkans'.

Tusk later clarified that he had no intention of suggesting that the accession of Albania and FYROM/Macedonia is unrealistic by the target date of 2025, but that things should not be "fast-tracked" in the region for the sole objective of completing the process within the suggested timeframe.

Preparing for life without the UK, Brussels has made it abundantly clear it sees a new membership base in the previously war-torn region of the Western Balkans. Serbia also signed a memorandum of understanding with the European Investment Bank, as well as issued a joint statement on the construction of the Bulgaria-Serbia gas interconnector. "We don't want that to happen".

Macedonia's accession talks are only being blocked the Greece's age-old veto, which also prevents the Western Balkan state from joining North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Without a "European perspective", the Balkans risk falling back into the "misfortunes we saw in the 90s" when Yugoslavia was tearing itself apart, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned last week.

The EU supports the Western Balkans partners pledge to continue strengthening good neighborly relations, regional stability and mutual cooperation, it said.

Unlocking talks for Macedonia - officially known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) - could also be tricky for the European Union as they squabble over naming. Madrid is one of the few countries that doesn't recognise Kosovan independence from Serbia - declared in 2008, amid fears it could set a precedent regarding the Catalan region of Spain.

On the sidelines of the main summit, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met with his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev in an attempt to resolve an ongoing dispute regarding the name of Macedonia.

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