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News 09 Jun 15

EU Needs Western Balkans, Summit Leaders Say

Leaders of Southeast Europe agreed on Monday to call on EU Council President Donald Tusk to encourage the process of European enlargement.

Dusica Tomovic

A summit of regional leaders on Monday in Montenegro heard that the EU project is incomplete without the Western Balkans.

The EU accession process is not a technical but a political issue in which the specificities of each country must also be taken into account, it was further concluded.

The third meeting of Southeast European leaders as part of the Brdo-Brijuni Process began on Monday in the Montenegrin resort of Budva.

The Slovenian and Croatian Presidents, Borut Pahor and Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, as co-chairpersons, as well as Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic, hosted Presidents Gjorge Ivanov of Macedonia, Tomislav Nikolic of Serbia, Bujar Nishani of Albania, Atifete Jahjaga of Kosovo and Mladen Ivanic - the chair of Bosnia's three-member state presidency

The two-day summit is focusing on EU enlargement, the overall situation in the region, particularly in troubled Macedonia, and on economic topics.

"The message of the meeting was repeated once again that the great idea of EU enlargement is not complete until the countries of Southeast Europe have become members," Austrian President Heinz Fisher, who also attended the summit, said.

Montenegro's President, Vujanovic, said regional leaders had accepted the initiative of the Slovenian and Croatian Presidents to sent a letter to the President of the EU Council, Donald Tusk, proposing a conference on the Western Balkans, aiming at analyzing the accession process and encourage EU enlargement.

Croatia's Grabar Kitanovic noted that that some bilateral issues in the region remain open and needed to be addressed as soon as possible, however.

The summit was an opportunity for the first meeting between Grabar-Kitarovic and Nikolic of Serbia to take place.

"It was my pleasure to meet the new Croatian President for the first time. Probably she realized that she had committed mistakes in some statements, which have been corrected," Nikolic said later.

Macedonia's Ivanov meanwhile argued that his country's stalled EU accession talks should go in parallel with efforts to solve the dispute with Greece over its name.

The EU's passivity over the long-running dispute "demotivates our country, creates instability in the political life and ethnic tension” Ivanov said.

He said that NATO should also extend a long overdue membership invitation to Macedonia, using its provisional UN reference name, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Greece, a NATO member country with a right of veto, blocked Macedonia's accession to NATO in 2008.

Athens has blocked Macedonia's progress towards EU membership for the same reasons, although Skopje obtained EU candidate status back in 2005 and European Commission reports have recommended a start to membership talks each year since 2009.

The Brdo-Brijuni Process, launched in 2013 jointly by Slovenia and Croatia, involves regular regional meetings with the aim of strengthening regional cooperation and encouraging dialogue between the region and the EU.

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