TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The leaders of several Western Balkan countries that want to join the European Union met informally Monday in Albania's capital, Tirana, to prepare for a summit on their progress in preparing for future membership.
At an informal lunch, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama welcomed his counterparts from Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi.
Albania plans to host an Oct. 16 summit on the Berlin Process, an initiative from Germany and France to encourage the six Western Balkans countries that aren't already in the EU to keep working to align their policies and practices with the bloc's.
The six countries — Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania — are at different stages of integration into the bloc. In 2013, Croatia, also a Western Balkans country, became the EU's newest member. Since then, progress has stalled.
Rama said he expected “the summit to have a meaningful outcome for the Western Balkans and serve as a further step” in facilitating interactions with the EU.
“In parallel with the negotiation process, (we) expect extra financial and economic support for the Western Balkan countries,” he said.
They also discussed with Varhelyi “how to open paths to integration (for the regional countries) into the European single market without expecting membership of the EU,” Rama said.
Serbia and Montenegro were the first Western Balkan countries to launch membership negotiations. followed by Albania and Macedonia last year, Bosnia and Kosovo have only begun the first step of the integration process.
“What is important at this moment is to consider the region as one, because that is the way the EU sees us, despite the fact that some countries are ahead and some behind,” said Rama.
The EU has not deemed the remaining Western Balkan countries' economies and political institutions ready for integration into the EU’s single market of borderless trade and Western democratic ideals.
A bitter dispute between Serbia and Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008, remains a great concern for the Western powers ahead of the October summit.
The war in Ukraine has put integration of the Western Balkans high on the bloc’s agenda as the EU works to reinvigorate its enlargement process. Ukraine also is seeking to join the bloc.
Follow Llazar Semini at https://twitter.com/lsemini
Llazar Semini, The Associated Press