European Union and Balkan leaders concluded talks in Croatia on Saturday, focussing on European integration and the challenges facing the EU in the aftermath of the global economic crisis.
As a two-day summit of Balkan and European leaders ended Saturday in Dubrovnik, leaders pledged to pursue integration with the European Union in the Balkan region.
Participants concluded the annual summit by suggesting that southeastern Europe can only advance further by joining the EU and NATO, and called for the EU to recognize the progress that has been made to date.
Opening the summit on Friday, Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor said her country was setting a positive example to other Balkan countries with its progress towards joining the EU.
"Croatia sends a positive message to all countries aspiring to join the European family," Kosor said, stressing that the government was strongly supporting Croatia's membership bid.
The integration of the Balkan region, which was torn apart when Yugoslavia was split up in the 1990s, would "strengthen the security of European territory," she said.
"All of us here are striving to the same goal - eventual integration of southeastern European countries in the Euro-Atlantic political and security framework," Kosor added.
EU President Herman Van Rompuy said this week that Croatia's EU entry would send a positive signal to the region by proving that accession to the EU is attainable.
Croatia would be the second former Yugoslav republic to join the EU since Slovenia in 2004.
Fast-track membership talks
The Croation government hopes to conclude membership talks with Brussels by the end of the year and become a full-fledged EU member by 2012.
French Premier Francois Fillon told the summit he believed that the future for Balkan countries lay in being a part of the EU. But he stressed that countries wishing to join the EU needed to undergo "deep transformations."
Fillon said deep transformations were needed
Croatian President Ivo Josipovic said that EU membership would "determine the development of this part of the world in a permanent and key way."
"Both EU and this gathering should send a clear message that there is place in the EU for all southeastern European countries - it is a message of optimism, encouragement," Josipovic said.
Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, Poland's PM Donald Tusk and Slovenia's PM Borut Pahor also attended the meeting.
Other participants included Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci, EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele and several NATO officials.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, however, pulled out at the last moment.
Serbia was also not represented at the meeting, boycotting the summit to protest the presence of representatives from Kosovo.
Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by the United States and 22 EU member states.
Spain and four other European Union states were urged Thursday to drop their opposition to Kosovo's independence by the European Parliament.
Kosovo is meant to be integrated into the European Union like all other Balkan states, but the process has been hindered by the refusal of Spain, Slovakia, Romania, Greece and Cyprus to recognize its independence.
Author: Nigel Tandy/mk (AFP/dpa)
Editor: Andreas Illmer