Balkan states have a “clear prospect” of joining the European Union, says Germany’s chancellor. But first, Merkel says, progress must be made to improve the rule of law, safeguard civil liberties and fight corruption.
In a podcast released on Saturday, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel said the road to achieve that goal will be long.
“We support accession. But we don't think that we have anything to gain if the criteria are not respected. And there are some very clear criteria for the steps to get closer to EU,” said Merkel, who is expected to meet with Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic in Berlin on Wednesday.
If criteria and treaties are respected, “then there is a clear prospect for western Balkan states” to join the European Union, she added.
Countries wishing to join the EU must meet stringent democratic benchmarks before being considered as candidates to join the bloc.
Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro are all hopefuls for European Union membership.
Outlining Germany's “strong commitment” in the Balkans, Merkel said her grand coalition government had invited all countries in the region to attend a conference in Berlin in August.
Serbia applied to join the then 27-member bloc in 2009 and was given candidate status in 2012. In January it started accession talks following improvements in ties with its former province, Kosovo.
On Thursday, the German parliament voted to keep more than 800 troops deployed in Kosovo for another year. Tensions have occasionally flared between the two countries since Pristina unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
Greece became the first Balkan country to join the EU in 1981.
jlw/dr (AFP, dpa)