EU Sends Strong Message to Western Balkan Countries from Zagreb Summit

By 7 May 2020

ZAGREB, May 7, 2020 - The European Union sent from the Zagreb Summit on Wednesday a strong message to Western Balkan countries that they have an unequivocal European perspective and that their future is in the EU.

Leaders of the EU's 27 member states and six Western Balkan countries held a summit via video link because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Although the meeting, unfortunately, was not held as would have liked, by physically coming together in Zagreb, in terms of content we have achieved results in line with our expectations and those of our south-eastern neighbours," Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković one of the co-organisers of the summit, said at a press conference.

"I'm sure the peoples and states in our neighbourhood will appreciate the message that was sent today from Zagreb and all other capitals of the EU member states," he added.

"The European Union wants to continue to support the countries of Southeast Europe on their path to the EU. We wanted to send a message for the continuation of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. Croatia especially underlined that Bosnia and Herzegovina as its nearest neighbour deserves membership candidate status and that it should be helped in that. In that context, we underlined the issue of the equality of the constituent peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina, notably the status of the Croatian people in terms of legitimate representation in the highest BiH institutions," Plenković said.

He pushed for holding such EU-Western Balkans summits every two years at least.

He said he was pleased the blockade of a decision to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania was lifted during Croatia's EU presidency.

Asked if some countries in the region should be more grateful to the EU and kiss the European flag instead of China's, as Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić did, Plenković said it was not up to him to talk on anyone's behalf but that all six Western Balkan countries had clearly articulated their European orientation.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the Western Balkans was an absolute priority for the EU and that this region belonged to the EU.

She underlined the importance of reforms, notably regarding freedom of the press, which she said was the cornerstone of the EU and the best instrument in the fight against disinformation.

European Council President Charles Michel underlined the importance of the Zagreb Declaration which once again reaffirmed the European perspective of Western Balkan countries.

He welcomed the €3.3 billion aid package which the EU set aside for them to deal with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

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