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Balkan leaders discuss migrant crisis, terror with European leaders at summit

Albanian PM Edi Rama said that Albanians are optimistic about the European integration, and the most willing to join the bloc. Photograph: (Getty)

Reuters Paris, France Jul 05, 2016, 01.28 AM (IST)
European Union leaders on Monday sought to reassure Balkan nations that talks on their becoming members of the bloc will continue despite Britain's vote to leave the union.

French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini held a meeting with Balkan leaders in Paris during which they underlined their determination to continue the accession talks.

On the sidelines of the meeting Balkan leaders from Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo spoke with the media outside the Elysee Palace.

"I think there were three main topics we discussed; one obviously the migration crisis, we share common threats or challenges. Clearly, the migration challenges are something we are dealing through or dealing with both in terms of the western Balkans and Europe in general. And then terrorism obviously... And the third topic which probably was also the most relevant in light of the recent Brexit announcement is to make sure that further integration of the Western Balkans proceeds. And I think that was the key message that we wanted to deliver today, that the process is moving forward and that as a result of Brexit, it will not stop," said Croatian Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic.

The six countries are all at different stages in joining the EU. Serbia aims to complete accession talks by 2019. Croatia and Slovenia are already EU members.

Balkans leaders told journalists the negotiation talks should continue and they did not fear that would be stopped by Brexit.

In Serbia, another aspiring EU member, support for the bloc is less clear-cut.

"I think that this is a good indication that all countries of the western Balkans are welcome to the European Union. I don't like pledges like we are pledging to you. We don't have a subservient relationship to the union. But that is the place where the future is the best for our people and our countries. And I'm happy about that and I want to congratulate the citizens of Serbia I will congratulate them on the 19th. We have a lot of work and efforts to make in front of us and obligations. But it seems to me that we have a clear and unequivocal European prospects," said Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.

Backing for the EU in Kosovo and Albania is between 80 and 90 per cent, levels that British supporters of EU membership could only have dreamt of.

"For many European Prime Ministers, the problem is the euroscepticism but for me it is the 'europtimism'. Albanians whether they come from Albania or Kosovo are very optimistic about the european integration. We are probably the most willing to join the EU at this stage," said Albanian Prime Minister, Edi Rama.

During the summit German Chancellor Angela told leaders of Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, which endured war and upheaval in the 1990s, that Britain's decision to leave the bloc had changed nothing in terms of their accession ambitions.

France's Francois Hollande also sought to reassure Balkan hopefuls that the accession process will remain underway.

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