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European Commission Head Calls for Action to Bring Western Balkan Countries Closer to Bloc

The head of the European Commission has called for action to bring Western Balkan countries closer to the European Union, according to Anadolu news agency.

“We need decisive action, right now, to bring Western Balkan partners closer to us. The new growth plan for the Western Balkans is all about this. It has the potential to double the size of the region’s economy, within a decade,” Ursula von der Leyen said after a one-day EU-Western Balkans Summit in Brussels on Wednesday.

Von der Leyen said the EU is ready to open accession negotiations on Cluster 1 – fundamentals of the bloc – with both Albania and North Macedonia.

“We believe that negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina should be opened when the necessary level of compliance with the accession criteria is reached,” she added.

Bosnia and Herzegovina gained EU candidacy about a year ago.

She added that Montenegro has a new momentum to return to the European path as it has a new government.

On recent tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, she said they need to make progress to fulfill their obligations under EU-facilitated dialogue.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, and unrest among primarily Serb regions of Kosovo has sparked into violence and seen a troop buildup at the countries’ shared border.

Von der Leyen also said the EU’s growth plan for the region can easily double the current economy in the region.

EU Council President Charles Michel said the Brussels summit focused on the region’s harmonization with foreign and security policy, the growth plan, and cooperation on energy.

“We also talked about strengthening cooperation in the fight against disinformation, cyber and hybrid attacks, better cooperation in the field of migration, and harmonization of visa policy,” said Michel.

The leaders of the six Western Balkan countries gathered in Brussels Wednesday for the summit. EU leaders recently said the bloc should be ready to enlarge by the year 2030, including possibly admitting Western Balkan nations such as Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The EU’s last great expansion was before 2010, but the bloc has been keen to take in Western Balkans countries, in part to make sure they do not fall under the influence of other world powers.

While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are still considered potential candidates, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, and North Macedonia have acquired the status of candidate countries over the years.