German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has called on Balkan leaders to overcome regional conflicts as they look to make progress down the path to European Union membership amid Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Speaking at a meeting of six Balkan leaders in Berlin on November 3, Scholz said EU membership for Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Albania is in the interest of the bloc, as well as the aspirants.
“Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine forces us to stand together to preserve Europe’s freedom and security… It is high time to overcome regional conflicts that have continued for far too long — conflicts that divide you and hold your countries back on your European path,” he said.
“That’s why regional conflicts must be resolved. So, for example, the normalization process of Serbia and Kosovo must progress,” Scholz said, amid simmering tensions between Belgrade and Pristina this week over a plan to phase out old vehicle license plates and documents issued by Serbia for the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska in Kosovo.
Kosovo and Serbia fought a bloody war in the late 1990s, with Kosovo eventually declaring independence from Serbia in 2008.
Belgrade — as well as Russia, China, and five EU member states — has not recognized its former province’s independence and accuses Pristina of suppressing the rights of minority Serbs, who account for 5 percent of Kosovo’s 1.8 million population, which is 90 percent Albanian.
Leaders from the six Balkan countries are expected to sign three agreements related to freedom of movement, recognition of university degrees, and professional qualifications between the nations.
Scholz said the EU is also pushing them to address the “challenges” of irregular migration, corruption, and organized crime.
Serbia in particular has been pushed to tighten its entry policies as an increasing number of migrants have tried to reach wealthier Western European countries via the Balkans in recent months.
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