London: The European Union has reiterated its support for the membership aspirations of the Western Balkan countries, Ukraine and Moldova in the bloc.
European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attended an evening dinner in the Greek capital Athens on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Thessaloniki Declaration, in which the bloc reiterated its full and unequivocal commitment to the EU membership perspective of the Western Balkans and its support for the acceleration of the accession process and related reforms.
Michel, who released a statement on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, said he had productive meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Moldovan President Maia Sandu.
“WesternBalkans, Ukraine and Moldova have a common European heritage, history and future. Enlargement remains a top priority for EU — a strong tool to foster peace, security and prosperity on our continent. We need to find the way forward to make this vision of Europe a reality,” he said.
Von der Leyen said: “We need to bring our friends, the aspiring members of the EU, much closer to us and much faster. Glad to be in Athens to discuss the European perspective of our neighbors and partners in the East and the Western Balkans. We will keep bringing down barriers between our regions.”
She said she met separately with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
Von der Leyen said they discussed issues related to reducing tensions in northern Kosovo, returning to the EU-facilitated dialogue and implementing agreements aimed at normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
In 2003, the six countries of the Western Balkans were designated “potential candidates” at the EU Leaders Summit held in Thessaloniki, Greece.
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.
Ukraine and Moldova were also declared candidate countries in June 2022.