German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says he will travel to the Western Balkans before a meeting of the European Council takes place next month, bearing the message that the region belongs in the European Union.
The six Western Balkan countries with EU membership aspirations – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia – have been engaged in years-long reform process, Scholz told legislators in Berlin on Thursday.
“Honouring our commitments to them is not just a question of our credibility. Today more than ever, their integration is also in our strategic interests,” he said, pointing to the influence of “external powers” in the region, including Russia.
Scholz had in April called for Western Balkan countries’ efforts to join the EU to be accelerated amid a “new era” in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In October last year, EU leaders at a summit in Slovenia only reiterated their “commitment to the enlargement process” in a statement that disappointed the six candidates for EU membership who had hoped for a concrete timetable.
The German chancellor said on Thursday he would be attending the EU summit at the end of May “with the clear message that the Western Balkans belong in the European Union”.
Earlier on Thursday, Scholz said there could be “no shortcuts” to Ukraine’s EU membership, adding that an exception for Kyiv would be unfair to the Western Balkan countries also seeking membership.
“The accession process is not a matter of a few months or years,” he said. He nonetheless said that the bloc must find a “fast and pragmatic” way to help Kyiv.
Ukraine has called for its EU candidate status to be fast-forwarded after the Russian invasion that has devastated the country.
France’s Emmanuel Macron has also said it will take “decades” for Ukraine to join the EU.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called this “unfair.”