Brussels / Skopje (dpa) - EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wants to bind the countries of the Balkans as closely as possible to the European Union.
"I think it is in our common geostrategic interest to have the Western Balkans as close as possible to the European Union," said von der Leyen in Brussels before an informal EU Western Balkans meeting. The term Western Balkans is an artificial word creation of the European Union.
The EU has changed the methodology of the accession negotiations in order to build new trust on both sides, said the President of the Commission. The new approach accelerates structural reforms and creates a credible prospect for the Balkan countries to join the EU after a period of time.
The start of negotiations on EU accession, which had been hoped for above all by North Macedonia and Albania, had failed last year due to opposition from French President Emmanuel Macron. He initially called for a reform of the admission process - the EU Commission had recently submitted a proposal. Macron has since changed his position.
Nevertheless, Macron's stance triggered a government crisis in Skopje in late autumn. The government of Social Democrat Zoran Zaev resigned in early January and the country has been led by a transitional government since then. Zaev had ended the long-standing dispute with the neighbor Greece over the state name Macedonia and, against the opposition of the nationalists, made it possible to rename it to North Macedonia. This paved the way for Athens to bring its neighbors closer to the EU and NATO.
The parliament in Skopje decided on Sunday evening to dissolve itself, thereby clearing the way for early elections on April 12. If the nationalists succeed, there will be a new argument with Athens.
When asked whether he would see a country from the region join the EU in four and a half years before the end of his term of office, Von-der-Leyen deputy and EU foreign policy representative Josep Borrell said: "I hope so." At the meeting on Sunday and Monday, work is underway to open up a European perspective to the Balkans at the next EU summit.
Von der Leyen said the Commission wanted to pave the way for EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania - preferably before the Balkan summit of the Croatian EU Presidency in Zagreb in early May. The Commission is preparing an investment package for the summit itself. She hoped that the Member States would agree to this in the Council.