TIRANA, Albania — Leaders from the European Union and the Western Balkans will hold a summit in Albania’s capital on Monday to discuss the path to membership in the bloc for the six countries of the region.
The main topics at the annual talks — called the Berlin Process — are integrating the Western Balkans into a single market and supporting their green and digital transformation. The nations in the region are Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.
The senior EU officials attending the summit in Tirana are European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel. They will be joined by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron.
The six Western Balkan countries are at different stages of integration into the bloc. Serbia and Montenegro were the first Western Balkan countries to launch membership negotiations a few years ago, followed by Albania and Macedonia last year, while Bosnia and Kosovo have only begun the first step of the integration process.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has put integration of the Western Balkans into the EU at the top of the 27-nation bloc’s agenda. The EU is trying to reinvigorate the whole enlargement process, which has been stalled since 2013, when the last country to become a member was Croatia.
The EU had made it a requirement for Western Balkans to reform their economies and political institutions before joining the bloc.
Von der Leyen mentioned a new growth plan for the Western Balkan countries that she will make public at the summit: opening new trade routes in seven specific areas of the EU’s common market for the Balkan countries, which need to implement quick reforms that in turn will be accompanied by investment.
Von der Leyen, speaking at a news conference on Sunday after meeting with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, gave no further details.
A bitter dispute between Serbia and Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008, remains a great concern for the EU before the summit. A recent shootout between masked Serb gunmen and Kosovo police that left four people dead and sent tensions soaring in the region seems to have suspended the EU-facilitated dialogue to normalize their ties.
EU officials have called on the Balkan countries to overcome regional conflicts and stand together as Russia wages war in Ukraine.
The summit, which is being held for the first time in a non-EU member country, takes place at a pharaonic landmark, known as the Pyramid. It was built in 1988 as a posthumous museum for Albania’s communist-era strongman, Enver Hoxha.
Follow Llazar Semini at https://twitter.com/lsemini
Find more of AP’s Europe coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/europe