The European Union would benefit from allowing the Balkans and Turkey to quickly join the bloc, the leaders of 19 mainly central and southern European countries said at a summit in Ohrid, Macedonia on Friday, May 2. Integrating the countries into the EU would stabilize south-eastern Europe, particularly in the wake of Kosovo's independence, they said.
"Europe can't be whole without expanding to the western Balkans," Albanian President Bamir Topi said during the meeting's first joint session.
The annual two-day summit was focused on the prospect of EU membership.
"This region has no alternative but the integration into the European Union," according to the draft document, which is meant to be passed on Saturday.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who was a guest at the summit, said his country's membership in the EU would "help transform the EU in a global player."
"The prospect of … accession to the EU remains the main incentive for the continuation of reforms in the region," he said. "For peace and stability to become permanent, we need solidarity and understanding more than ever."
Threat to Balkan stability
Macedonia's president, Branko Crvenkovski, said that the region was not fully, or irreversibly, on the route to the EU, and that Kosovo continued to pose a threat to Balkan stability.
"There are still risks, which must not be underestimated," he said, adding that "even the European Union could not reach a common position" on the issue of Kosovo.
Although Kosovo was on the agenda at the Ohrid meeting, it was not represented at the meeting. Kosovo's leaders have reacted with annoyance, saying that since an independent Kosovo is a reality, it must be recognized.