German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attended a summit of six Balkan nations and EU officials in Berlin on Thursday, stressing that it was "high time to overcome regional conflicts."
"Russia's brutal war of aggression against Ukraine forces us to stand together to preserve Europe's freedom and security,'' Scholz said, adding that old conflicts were holding the Balkans back from their "European path."
"The normalization process between Serbia and Kosovo in particular must speed up," he added, "so let's get it done."
Scholz met with leaders from Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania, who were there to sign a deal to relax regional travel restrictions and recognize each other's academic and professional qualifications.
Balkans must address crime, migration to join EU
Albania, Serbia, North Macedonia and Montenegro are all currently candidates to join the EU. Bosnia and Kosovo are considered potential candidates.
Serbia's prospects of joining remain bleak, however, as long as it refuses to accept majority-Albanian Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence.
On top of regional bridge-building, Scholz said "the challenges of irregular migration, corruption, and organized crime," had to be addressed before the six nations could join the bloc.
Amending visa policy, in particular, to bring it into line with EU rules was "essential in this context," he said.
Following the meeting, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a €1 billion ($1 billion) emergency assistance package for western Balkan nations. The bulk of the funds will go to helping vulnerable households and small businesses address skyrocketing energy costs through the winter.
es/sms (AP, AFP, dpa)