Merkel urges western Balkans to focus on EU membership

U.S. and World

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a news conference with the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in Tirana, Albania, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. Merkel is on a farewell tour of the Western Balkans, as she announced in 2018 that she wouldn’t seek a fifth term as Germany’s Chancellor. (AP Photo/Franc Zhurda)

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Albania on Tuesday to urge the leaders of the six western Balkan states to strengthen their regional cooperation in their strive for European Union membership.

Merkel hailed the cooperation intiative, saying “the more cooperation you have, the stronger the Berlin Process will be.” The Berlin Process is a program she started in 2014 to boost regional cooperation among the western Balkan countries.

“From the geo-strategic viewpoint, the EU, or concretely Germany, has its own interest in the membership of the (western Balkan) countries into the EU,” she said at a news conference.

The western Balkan states — which include Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — are at different stages on the EU membership path. Their progress in integration has been delayed recently due to the bloc’s stalled interest in enlargement and the years of diplomatic turmoil the EU faced as Britain left the bloc.

Following a veto from EU-member Bulgaria, the launch of EU membership negotiations for Albania and North Macedonia has been postponed, though they already have fulfilled the criteria.

“The EU must keep its word and not always come up with new conditions again and again because it doesn’t have any interest — perhaps due to domestic reasons in some countries — to push forward the process of accession. That causes disappointment and I can understand that disappointment,” Merkel said. “We should trust each other.”

In the Serbian capital of Belgrade, which Merkel visited on Monday, she noted the presence of other suitors for the Balkan nations, such as Russia and China.

Merkel will be missed much in the region, according to Albania’s leader.

“In the history of this region, Angela Merkel has set a milestone for decades to come,” said Prime Minister Edi Rama.

But Merkel assured her audience that “every German chancellor will have a heart for this region” as many people from the region now live and work in Germany, the EU’s largest economy.

Merkel did not run for reelection this year after leading Germany since 2005. Germany is holding a general election on Sept. 26.

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Kristen Grieshaber contributed from Berlin.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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