UK Prime Minister Theresa May is hosting leaders from six West Balkan states at a London summit which Angela Merkel is also set to attend. The push to bring the region closer to the EU comes amidst a UK political drama.
The UK government pledged to almost double its Western Balkans' funding ahead of a Tuesday meeting gathering leaders of Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia in London.
Top EU officials, including diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini and enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn were also expected to attend the summit aimed at boosting ties between the EU bloc and the six impoverished countries in southeast Europe.
The UK is also preparing to welcome leaders of Austria, Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria and other EU nations for the meeting.
Most notably, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to make an appearance and give a speech.
The UK's troubled prime minister, Theresa May, is hosting the gathering while facing a political challenge that saw two of her ministers, including her foreign secretary, depart in less than 24 hours.
"History shows that a stable and secure Western Balkans region means a more stable and secure Europe," May said ahead of the summit.
Where was Boris Johnson?
While the top national leaders are only meeting on Tuesday, the summit officially started the day before, with interior and foreign affairs ministers arriving in London from various European states.
The UK's Boris Johnson was set to host the gathering as the country's foreign secretary. However, he did not turn up at the venue and subsequently resigned from his post over May's position on Brexit talks.
His absence was noted by high-ranking delegates, including Germany's Deputy Foreign Minister, Michael Roth.
Despite Johnson's absence, the UK promised to raise its funding for the Balkans from £41 million ($54.3 million, €46.3 million) in 2018/2019 to £80 million in the following year.
Additionally, London committed to doubling the number of UK staff working on security issues in the Western Balkans, mostly tackling organized crime gangs.
Organized gangs and crime clans from the Balkans are active all over Western Europe, including in the UK, and have recently been making money by smuggling migrants along the Balkan route.
UK pledges money for Balkans' cyber security
The UK also pledged a million pounds for training and advising cybersecurity forces and "Computer Emergency Response Teams" in Serbia and Montenegro, as well as initiatives to share information among senior officials.
Another major initiative is to extend the support for the Pan-Balkans Strategic Reserve Force (SRF) which is maintained in the UK as an emergency measure in case the security situation deteriorates in the volatile region.
Additionally, London agreed to launch the Balkans Organised Crime Observatory with Austria and Norway.
The London meeting is part of the so-called Berlin Process that aims to bring the Balkans closer to the EU.
It was set up on Germany's initiative some five years ago, with summits held in different EU capitals every year.
Thanks to economic aid and strong trade links, Brussels wields considerable power in the six West Balkan states, all of which aspire to join the EU.
However, the bloc also faces the resurgence of Russian and Turkish influence in the region, as well as growing interest from China.
dj/jm (Reuters, Beta)