EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has called on the six countries in the western Balkans to take a stand against authoritarian states like Russia. "You have to decide which side you're on - on the side of democracy, that's the European Union, your friend and partner. Or do you want to take a different path?" said the German politician at an EU summit on Tuesday and the Western Balkans in Tirana, Albania.
Russia and China are trying to exert influence in the region, but the EU is the largest investor and closest partner for the Western Balkans.
As a result of the Russian war against Ukraine since the end of February, the question arises as to whether autocracies and the law of the strongest will prevail or democracy and the rule of law, said von der Leyen. "You can also see this struggle in the Western Balkans."
Serbia rejects allegations of siding with Moscow
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has denied allegations that his country is on Russia's side in the Ukraine war. "We are aware of our obligations to the EU, but we are an independent country," said the head of state. "We protect our national interests." Serbia, which has been negotiating membership with the European Union since 2014, has not adopted EU sanctions against Russia for attacking Ukraine.
Vucic also denied accusations that he was modeling his foreign policy on Moscow and destabilizing neighboring countries. "These are accusations and fabrications." Such claims are always made when someone wants to criticize Serbia and cannot find better arguments. Russia is important to Serbia because it prevents Kosovo's admission to the United Nations as a veto power in the UN Security Council. The country, which once belonged to Serbia, declared its independence in 2008. Belgrade continues to claim the territory for itself.
New proposal on the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo
The EU presented a new proposal to normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo. According to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, the text was handed over to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti shortly before the EU-Western Balkans summit in Albania on Tuesday. Serious discussions should now begin. Borrell initially did not comment on the content in the Albanian capital Tirana.
In addition to the heads of state and government of the 27 EU countries, their colleagues from Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Kosovo will take part in the summit. All six countries are striving to join the EU.
EU Council President Charles Michel emphasized the importance of progress in the countries' accession efforts. "I am absolutely convinced that the future of our children with the Western Balkans in the EU will be safer and more prosperous," said the Belgian.