Anastasiades: Bonds between the European Union and Western Balkans should grow stronger

A new era for the Balkan countries the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia

A new era for the Balkan countries the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday said he supported Western Balkan nations' aspirations to join the bloc but added that "great care and discipline" was needed while integrating the countries with the rest of the community.

The EU is expected to announce a "Sofia Programme for the Western Balkans", which will include all infrastructure projects, with data about their deadlines and financing, he added.

The EU is also wary of admitting new members before they settle their differences, particularly in a region still bedevilled by the aftermath of the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

European Union leaders and their counterparts from the six Western Balkan countries commenced talks in Sofia, Bulgaria on Thursday to discuss how to strengthen ties between the region and the bloc.

Earlier, EU high representative for the common foreign and security policy Federica Mogherini said that in the future membership to the EU will be enlarged with new members.

"We have pinpointed one option that may be acceptable for both sides [but] we have to consult with the other political factors in our countries, with the presidents and with the other political leaders", Zaev cautioned in a press conference. "I believe we have covered a major part of the distance, but there is still distance to cover", he said.

During the "family photoshoot", Kosovo's Hashim Taci and Serbia's Alexander Vucic were seen close to each other, while they later shook hands when they signed a memorandum of understanding with the European Union under the approving gaze of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. The 2015 nuclear agreement is an important element of regional peace and security so we chose to support it regardless of the United States' decision.

She said: "It is clear that all these countries have a clear accession perspective to the European Union".

"It is the way to use more effectively the time between now and tomorrow.

And I don't think we do a service to the candidate countries or ourselves by having a mechanism that in a way no longer has rules and keeps moving toward more enlargement", Macron told reporters at the summit in the Bulgarian capital Sofia. "There is no alternative", he said.

The six Western Balkan countries are not mentioned by name and are referred to as "partners", as supposed to "states" or "countries", in an apparent effort to ease concerns about the reference to Kosovo's status.

The EU Commission said in February it adopted a strategy for supporting the EU integration of the countries of the Western Balkans, focusing on the need for fundamental reforms and good neighbourly relations.

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