Merkel Says It's In EU Interest To Advance Balkan Integration.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she sees the six Western Balkan states as future EU member states for "geostrategic reasons."

"It is in the European Union's own interests to advance the process forward here," Merkel told reporters after a virtual conference with the leaders of the Western Balkan countries on July 5.

She did not name Russia and China but hinted at their influence in the region.

Additionally, Merkel said Germany would give 3 million COVID-19 vaccination doses to the Western Balkans "as soon as possible."

Merkel launched the so-called Berlin Process in 2014 to promote greater regional cooperation in the Western Balkans and their European integration.

The conference was attended by the heads of government of Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Kosovo, as well as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

One success is a recent step by the six countries to drop mobile roaming charges for users across the region, Merkel said.

Merkel said the region was still under a "light and shadow," referring to the hostilities and problems in the wake of the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

She mentioned in particular difficult relations between Serbia and Kosovo, internal disfunction in Bosnia, and issues between Bulgaria and North Macedonia.

"We need a lot of patience and a lot of commitment," she said.

The Western Balkan countries are at different stages of integrating with the European Union.

Montenegro and Serbia are the most advanced, having opened accession negotiations and chapters.

Albania and North Macedonia are awaiting the official opening of accession talks, while Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are potential candidate countries.

Based on reporting by Reuters and Sueddeutsche Zeitung

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