POZNAN, Poland (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May joined on Friday a high-level meeting in Poland that seeks to reassure Western Balkans nations aspiring to join the European Union that support for their accession remains strong.
The meeting in Poznan this week brings together foreign, interior and economy ministers from some EU nations and from membership candidates Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania, as well as potential candidates Bosnia and Kosovo.
The Western Balkans nations are seeking EU reassurance after some leaders in the 28-member bloc have spoken against further enlargement of the bloc.
No time frame for their accession has been set, even though individual applications were filed 10 years ago and more.
The latest EU strategy for the region suggests membership for Montenegro and Serbia by 2025 but said that goal is ambitious.
There are worries that the EU’s procrastination may leave the region open for Russia, Turkey and China to gain influence.
In a report last month, the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group said the hopefuls may turn to Russia, China or Turkey if the EU continues to drag its feet.
“Russia has used a variety of instruments to exercise — often pernicious — influence in the region,” it said.
It noted that Russia has exploited cultural and religious links with Serbia, the Serb entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Montenegro and North Macedonia.
Turkey is also said to be enhancing cultural, religious and educational links with the Muslim populations in the region, while China is pursuing economic and technical cooperation throughout the region, bar Kosovo, whose independence it refuses to acknowledge.
Poland is hosting the event as it currently presides over the so-called Berlin Process that brings Western Balkan nations together with EU members.